Oil drilling off Va.'s shore would interfere with military, defense study says

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

RICHMOND -- A newly released U.S. Defense Department report shows that exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas off almost three-quarters of the Virginia shoreline where the government has proposed those activities is incompatible with military operations and training.

The report is the latest potential setback to a plan strongly endorsed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to conclude sales of leases to companies interested in drilling 50 miles off Virginia's coast by 2012.

The Defense Department report, concluded in March but released in part Tuesday by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a drilling opponent, indicates that drilling would interfere with military activities, including ordnance training and carrier operations, in 72 percent of the 3 million acres covered by the lease sale and that it could be allowed only with restrictions in 6 percent of the area. Norfolk is home to the world's largest naval base.

The report found no military objections to drilling in 22 percent of the ocean territory. Those areas, Moran said, include major commercial shipping lanes.

"It precludes oil drilling off the coast of Virginia, at least in the areas that have so far been designated," Moran said in an interview. "When you come down to it, the Navy's operations are much more important to the Virginia economy, let alone national security, than these drilling operations."

His office provided a section of the report that includes the portion on Virginia.

Enthusiasm for offshore drilling had been significantly dampened among some Virginia politicians by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an explosion at an exploratory well.

President Obama announced in March that he was lifting a moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas in some areas of the Eastern Seaboard, but he included a caveat that it could not interfere with military operations.

Wendy Snyder, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said the military conducts such reviews every five years but decided to make a more comprehensive evaluation of the potential effects of drilling in the fall. The report was completed in time to brief officials with the Interior Department before Obama's announcement, she said. It shows fewer problematic areas in other parts of the East Coast.

McDonnell has advocated drilling as way to create jobs and collect state revenue that could be used to improve roads. He has continued to back the plan in recent days, although he has said the accident off the coast of Louisiana needs to be investigated to help guide safety improvements.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said Tuesday that he had not reviewed the full report. However, he said the McDonnell administration is in "constant" contact with the military about drilling.

"The United States military is a critical part of the Commonwealth's culture and economy, and their operations in the Commonwealth are vital to our national security," he said in a statement. "We are confident that offshore energy production and the United States military can coexist in Virginia without any disruption or unwanted intrusion upon either."

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