Attorney General Mark Herring has joined with attorneys general from eleven other states in calling for a ban on offshore drilling. In a letter addressed to Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the lawmakers expressed “opposition” to the Department of Interior’s 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program. The letter goes on to state that if the program is not terminated by March the consortium of attorneys general will file formal comments that address, “legal insufficiencies and the many harms that it would inflict on our states.”
As of April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order green-lighting the “energy innovation, exploration, and production” of the outer continental shelf, which would include the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Trump reiterated his support for domestic energy exploration and exploitation in his State of the Union address this past Tuesday night saying, “We have ended the war on American energy.” The letter to Zinke, however, highlighted the potentially disastrous problems offshore drilling would cause, not only to the environment, but to the “three million jobs across America [that] depend on the ocean and coastal economy, which generated more than $350 billion in gross domestic product in 2014 alone.”
In the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2017 report on the US Ocean and Great Lakes Economy, Virginia’s ocean economy “employed 118,760 people and generated $5.1 billion in wages and $8.2 billion in gross domestic product.”
The report went on to find, “The ocean economy accounted for 3.2 percent of Virginia’s employment, 2.6 percent of its wages, and 1.8 percent of its gross domestic product.”
Coastal Virginia is also home to Naval Station Norfolk, one of the largest military installations in the world. The station supports 80,000 active duty service men and women, 112,000 family members, 30,000 civilian employees and accounts for 30 percent of the overall population of Hampton Roads, making it one of the largest economic engines in the Commonwealth. Yet according to a Department of Defense memo from 2010, offshore oil and gas exploration is not compatible with the “operations and training” mission of the Navy in Hampton Roads. Should oil and gas exploration be given the go-ahead, this would put the relationship with the Navy would in serious jeopardy.
None of this even takes into account the safety concerns surrounding offshore oil and gas exploration. Most of which came to light in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that left eleven people dead and spilled over three-million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the attorneys general letter, the risks from drilling in the Atlantic are even higher than elsewhere given there is minimal “spill response infrastructure or capacity” in the region.
Florida is so far the only state which has been granted an exemption to Trump’s aggressive plans to expand offshore oil and gas exploration. The letter goes so far as to say, “Indeed, the Department has not described in any detail the reasoning for the apparent exemption granted to waters off the coast of Florida, nor for the failure to exempt areas off the coasts of other states.” Interestingly, Trump’s golf club Mar-a-Lago sits off the coast of Eastern Florida.