Terry McAuliffe’s flip-flop on opposing offshore oil drilling in Virginia is unsettling given that the last time the Democrat ran for governor in 2009, he seemed skeptical of drilling for oil, although he thought searching for natural gas might be beneficial.
He apparently changed his position because he’s been hit with fresh legislation proposed by Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, his fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Their bill would mandate that roughly half of any revenue from offshore petroleum go to Virginia or to federal conservation programs in the state, with the remainder going to Washington.
The Warner-Kaine bill would make Virginia’s cut from any potential revenue more in line with what Gulf Coast states get, but it puts pressure on the Obama administration to speed up leasing for oil- and gas-drilling rights, which had been delayed until 2017.
It would be hard for McAuliffe, now embroiled in a tough fight against Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, to go against two popular Democrats who pretty much paved the way for his candidacy.
That, however, doesn’t mean that any of the Democrats is making a wise move.
There was a collective sigh of relief in 2010 when Obama put East Coast leasing plans on ice following the blow-out and huge spill at the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico. That incident killed 11 workers and fouled local seafood and tourist beaches.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) was forced to shelve part of his plans, notably offshore drilling, to make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”
It turns out that Democrats want to do the very same thing, and it’s a bad idea.
For starters, there’s no serious evidence that there is much oil offshore although there are indications that natural gas deposits might be available. So, oil and gas drilling don’t contribute anything to the state’s economy and may never.
But as tourism ($200 billion in 2011), seafood ($191 million in 2011) and the Navy ($15 billion in 2009) do contribute. These industries and the jobs they bring the state are cold, hard facts.
A Deepwater-sized spill could do enormous damage to beach resorts and fishing. The Navy is worried that most of the areas that could be leased would impede combat training, which involves explosives and aircraft-carrier operations.
Some experts believe that not enough has been done to bring offshore-drilling safety operations and technology beyond the level where it was the Deepwater blast occurred.
Environmentalists point out that extending offshore drilling to Virginia and the East Coast only prolongs America’s dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuel. But there’s a more immediate problem: Thanks to new onshore-drilling technologies, the United States is suddenly brimming with natural gas and shale oil, turning global energy markets on their heads.
So why drill off the coast of Virginia, considering the risks to existing and robust industries?