While most of the Commonwealth’s attention has begun to turn more to the steadily gearing up state gubernatorial race, Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine recently made waves on Capital Hill that will continue to ripple across the State for years to come.
As May drew to a close, Senators Warner and Kaine co-sponsored legislation that, if passed, would lift the federal moratorium on offshore gas and oil drilling of the coast of Virginia. Virginia, like many other states and regions across the U.S., has been under a drilling moratorium since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This moratorium on Atlantic drilling is slated to remain in effect until 2017.
The bill, named the Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2013, proposes an expansion of the nation’s current five-year leasing plan to include the sale of leases for exploration and drilling, however the Senators are adamant that the only support such measures if Virginia receives a large portion of the revenue generated.
Currently, the federal government enjoys all revenue generated from offshore drilling, and Senators Warner and Kaine wish to see a marked change in this policy. Under their plan, Virginia will receive 37.5% of revenue from gas and oil production while an additional 12.5% will go to the federal government to specifically be used with the Commonwealth for conservation, alternative energy development, and public transportation. The remaining 50% will be taken by the federal government with no strings attached.
According to Senator Warner, however, the precise amount of money that Virginia will receive under this plan is not clear as it has not yet been ascertained how much natural gas and oil is actually available for drilling. Furthermore, recognizing the given the controversial nature of offshore drilling – as well as the high possibility of adverse effects to the environment – the senators have affirmed the need for extensive research and analysis prior to any actual drilling. By their estimates, drilling would begin no earlier than 2020.
Numerous environmental groups have already voiced strong opposition to the legislation. Glen Besa, chapter director of the Virginia Sierra Club, worries that offshore drilling will jeopardize both the Commonwealth’s tourism and fishing industries. “As we saw with the Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries. In Virginia, that means risking over $2.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs in industries that depend on healthy ocean and Chesapeake Bay waters and clean beaches,” Besa added.