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Virginia leaders, environmentalists react to drilling news

Anita Kumar

Gov. Bob McDonnell held a press conference to tout the news that Virginia could be the first state on the East Coast to drill for oil and natural gas.

"This is part of our plan to truly make Virginia the energy capital of the East Coast,'' McDonnell (R) said at the South Portico of the state Capitol. "This is a great day for Virginia. It's one that we will say that in the near future has generated a significant number of jobs. This is the breakthrough."

McDonnell estimates that natural gas alone will produce 2,600 jobs, $8 billion in capital investments, $644 million in payroll and $271 million in tax revenue over 10 years. The oil, he said, could produce much more.

Most Virginia leaders -- regardless of their political party -- have expressed interest in joining Alaska, Texas, Louisiana and other states in setting up offshore platforms to drill for oil and natural gas. McDonnell and fellow elected Republicans strongly back the proposal, as do most members of the state's congressional delegation, including both U.S. senators, who are Democrats.

Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner both released statements that praised Obama today.

"This is good news and a positive step forward as we work to expand our nation's domestic energy production,'' Warner said. "Moving forward on the mid-Atlantic off-shore proposal will provide an opportunity to determine the scope of our region's off-shore energy resources, the economic viability of accessing those resources, and the potential impacts on our environmental and national security priorities."

Warner and Webb plan to partner up later this year to introduce a bill that would allow Virginia to release a share of the royalties.

"This policy should be coupled with a fair and equitable formula for profit-sharing between the federal and state government in order to attract well-paying jobs to the Commonwealth and support a range of projects, from clean energy development to transportation infrastructure to coastal restoration,'' Webb said.

But U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), who represents traffic-clogged Northern Virginia, argues that Congress has repeatedly rejected attempts by Atlantic Coast states to receive royalties.

"Drilling will have no impact on Virginia's transportation crisis anytime soon, even if a majority in Congress were to agree to give up future federal revenue,'' he said. "Oil and gas development off Virginia's coast will be a long and drawn-out process whose results will not be known for close to a decade."

The last study of the Atlantic Ocean by the federal government, conducted two decades ago, estimated that at least 130 million barrels of oil and at least 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be off Virginia's coast. That's equal to the amount of oil used in six days and the amount of gas used in less than a month in the United States.

Environmental groups worry that possible spills and new infrastructure onshore and off could harm plants, animals, tourism and the naval base in Norfolk, the world's largest.

"It is truly disappointing to see this administration risk so much for so little,'' Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Marirose Pratt said. "What we know about the minuscule amount of oil and gas in the Atlantic cannot justify the costs to our environment and our coastal economies, especially when there are better ways to meet energy needs for the long term, not just six days or even six months."

By Anita Kumar  |  March 31, 2010; 6:37 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Barack Obama , James Webb , Mark Warner , Robert F. McDonnell  
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Comments

How is the volume of oil in the ocean known? It sounds like a great opportunity, once again, for the oil companies to lie and say there isn't much oil when they are making so much from the mid-east oil fields. What can be done to monitor the truth?

Posted by: MissClarty | March 31, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Yet another shining example of our Governor. No wonder Virginians are confused. They got a President who throws his supports continually under a bus, and then they have a Governor who is blind to reality.

Posted by: trambusto | April 1, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

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