The ocean is essential to our lives in Virginia, whether you enjoy gorgeous coastline views and recreation or some of the world’s most sought-after seafood. Most of us love spending weekends enjoying the 3,000 miles of coastline in our state, from our long stretches of sandy beaches to the beautiful estuary habitats the Chesapeake Bay provides. We also love our waterways, which stretch inland but are inherently connected to the ocean. From kayaking and rafting to paddle boarding and surfing, water sports that rely on clean, healthy waters are the foundation of Virginia’s recreation.
Our economy and way of life rely on the health of our oceans. Fishing, tourism and recreation in Virginia support over 86,000 jobs and generate $4.8 billion in GDP. But, this very ocean, and the immense economic benefits it brings us, are at threat from offshore drilling. In January of this year, the Trump administration released the draft Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024. If this program moves forward, it would open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling activities, putting Virginia’s coast, and our economy, in jeopardy.
I’m 100 miles from the coast, and I know how bad offshore drilling would be for our future.
As a small business owner in Richmond who relies on our clean waterways and environment, I know that drilling would spell disaster for our coastal small businesses, which rely on tourists visiting to enjoy the beautiful Virginia coastline. From the first step of offshore exploration to the inevitability of drilling accidents, offshore drilling is a bad deal for Virginia, and for our local businesses.
Before any drilling occurs, companies must explore for potential oil and gas reserves through seismic airgun blasting, a process extremely harmful to marine life. It has been shown to reduce catch rates in important commercial fish, as well as increasing mortality in scallops, one of the largest seafood revenues for our state. The dockside value of sea scallop landings in 2016 alone was more than $51 million, a sum that’s sure to take a blow if seismic airgun blasting occurs off the coast. It’s also bound to impact marine mammals, driving away tourists who flock to our coast hoping to see whales as they migrate up and down the Atlantic.
Once companies blast our seas and identify any potential oil reserves, the drilling begins. This development will undoubtedly change the character of our coast.
The addition of large-scale oil refineries and the associated pipelines required to pump the oil will transform our charismatic beach towns into oil towns.
An industrialized coast will drive tourists away. After all, there’s probably a good reason why people don’t vacation in coastal oil towns.
Virginia cannot risk a catastrophe like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which resulted in more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill impacted the Gulf’s once vibrant fishing and tourism economy; the region lost an estimated 10 million user-days of beach, fishing, and boating activity due to oiled waters. An oil spill will not only impact our coast – it is bound to impact all of our interconnected waterways, including our very own James River. Here’s an exciting new offer: Guided whitewater rafting through an oil-slick fish kill. Sound appealing?
So why am I, a business owner in Richmond, concerned with offshore drilling? Because our legacy in Virginia should be clean waters and thriving natural resources, not an oiled coast. And, the quality of life that draws people to this region, and makes us feel so connected to it, will be obliterated. Whether you own a surf shop steps away from the sand or a business 100 miles from the shoreline, we all depend on the ocean. We cannot risk losing it.
Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect RVA Magazine editorial policy.