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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:33 PM ET, 05/18/2011

Warner, Webb reject Senate proposal to open Va. coast to offshore drilling

U.S. senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb voted against a bill Wednesday that would have allowed for offshore oil and gas drilling off Virginia’s coast.

The Democratic-led Senate defeated the Republican measure to expand drilling in waters across the nation by a vote of 42-57. It needed 60 votes.

The Virginia Democrats said they voted against the bill because it did not provide Virginia with royalties from the sale of leases off its coast.

“I have long advocated opening up more of the nation’s outer continental shelf resources to responsible natural gas and oil exploration,” Webb said. “However, states deserve fair access to their own oil and gas reserves and an equitable share of any revenues from the sale of their offshore resources.”

“Sen. Warner has long supported looking to see what energy resources exist off the coast,’’ spokesman Kevin Hall said. “His concern with this bill was that it makes no provision for Virginia to share in any revenue from energy produced off our coast.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently passed a bill calling for drilling off Virginia’s coast within a year. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has made drilling one of his administration's top priorities, lobbied for the legislation.

“Virginia has a vision to become the energy capital of the East Coast, but we cannot achieve that goal, nor can we help foster energy independence and national security if we are reticent to set the prudent and needed policies that can impact the future of our nation and the livelihood of every American,” McDonnell said.

President Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday that the Interior Department would speed up seismic work that is a precursor to drilling off the south and mid-Atlantic coasts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean any drilling would occur.

McDonnell administration officials are eagerly awaiting word from Interior about whether Virginia will be put back in the five-year plan.

Obama announced last year that Virginia would become one of the first East Coast states to drill offshore. Companies were to start bidding on contracts to conduct exploratory drilling in Virginia's waters 50 miles off the coast in 2011 or 2012.

But the administration postponed the sales after the massive BP oil spill.

The last study of the Atlantic Ocean by the federal government, conducted two decades ago, estimated that at least 130 million barrels of oil and at least 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be off Virginia's coast. That's equal to the amount of oil used in six days and the amount of gas used in less than a month in the United States.

Many experts think tests on similar geographic areas in other parts of the world and limited seismic work off Virginia's coast indicate that there is far more oil and natural gas offshore, although no one has been able to show accurately what is there because of federal restrictions.

By  |  05:33 PM ET, 05/18/2011

 
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