One of Virginia’s most precious assets is its thousands of miles of shoreline, which not only graces the Commonwealth with a diverse ecosystem but also generates a significant portion of the gross domestic product (GDP) that fuels the economy. This is true for all states that rely on their coastal economies for revenue generation. According to the National Ocean Economics Program, almost half of the entire US economy is generated via coastal regions and their subsequent income-generating activities. The report also states, “Within the coastal states, the 445 counties included within the Coastal Zone Management Program as defined by the individual states (coastal zone counties), account for almost half the US GDP (48%).” Yet oil and gas exploration only account for .14 percent of overall GDP, making their position as a revenue generator secondary to that of things like tourism and recreation, which account for 83 percent.
Why is this technical information important to Virginia? Because President Trump has just removed Obama-era protections that banned offshore drilling in nearly all coastal regions throughout the US, including Virginia. This move by the Trump administration now opens up billions of square acres along the East Coast to oil and gas exploration and leasing – some of which will be proposed off the coastal regions of Virginia, including Hampton Roads. Ben Davenport, a City Councilman from Virginia Beach, spoke with RVA Mag on the issue of off-shore drilling and the impact that it would have on the coastal economy. “There is no long-term benefit to off-shore drilling off the coast of Virginia,” he said. “We will not receive any royalties like they enjoy elsewhere, and it will not bring the kinds of sustainable jobs or economy that can offset a potential loss should there be a spill or disaster.”
According to the Virginian-Pilot, Virginia has been an appealing option for oil and gas companies. As recently as 2011, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management started shopping leases that would offer around 2.9 million acres of exploration options. These leasing options were scrapped, according to the Pilot, after the Deep Water Horizon event in the Gulf of Mexico, which left 11 people dead and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean.
Lawmakers in Virginia have generally been split on the issue of offshore drilling. As recently as May 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe said he would support leasing options for oil exploration as long as Virginia got a share of the profits. Other Democrats, including Congressmen Donald McEachin and Bobby Scott, have categorically said they are against it. Republicans have, for the most part, come out in support of off-shore drilling. In a statement to RVA Mag on Trump’s announcement, McEachin said, “Opening the floodgates for offshore drilling is utterly irresponsible. The administration’s announcement to open the Pacific and Atlantic oceans to drilling could bring a potential repeat of the unforgettable Deepwater Horizon to our treasured Chesapeake Bay.”
The push for offshore drilling has come under the guise of energy independence and job creation. Yet, as the world moves towards sustainable energy sources like wind and solar, the rationale for continued oil and gas exploration looks less about the economic interests of all Americans than the corporate interests of those who stand to personally benefit from risky hydro-carbon operations. McEachin echoed this in his statement, “I urge this administration to ditch this dedication to dirty energy and to embrace the powerful options available with clean energy resources such as solar panels and wind turbines. We only get one planet, we should not make choices that will actively degrade the resources that our children and our children’s children will need”
Virginia has already started investing in solar with the implementation of a six-mega watt solar farm in Danville.
Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, also released a statement yesterday, saying this of Trump’s rollback, “A commitment to preserving the health of Virginia’s coastline has fueled the growth of the New Virginia Economy—today’s announcement puts the progress we’ve made at risk.” The statement went on to say, “Expanding offshore drilling unnecessarily jeopardizes our economy, environment, national security, and the health and safety of our residents. All it takes is one exploration gone wrong to do immeasurable harm to major economic drivers including tourism, fishing, aquaculture, and our military installations.”