More Energy Needed

Should we drill off the coast of Virginia? Environmentalists and economists continue the debate as we search for solutions to fuel America's voracious appetite for oil.

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There’s a fight on the horizon. Actually, just beyond the horizon—more than 50 miles east—way out in the Atlantic Ocean.¶ There, beneath the ocean floor, are untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. The question at hand is whether or not this fossil fuel should stay put or come out, and the looming battle promises to be long and bitter. There’s a lot at stake; drilling off Virginia’s coast could be very lucrative but quite risky. If nothing changes, the oil and gas will remain buried until at least 2017. There are indications, though, that several efforts this coming year will try to unlock those resources. The voices urging caution on this matter aren’t just the usual suspects, meaning drilling advocates face a steady uphill climb if they’re to see platforms in Virginia’s share of the Atlantic anytime soon.¶ The coming debate on offshore drilling might have happened three years ago. Back then, Virginia was poised to spearhead offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, a plan supported by a federal policy that reflected President Obama’s “all of the above” approach to fueling America’s voracious energy appetite.

“We in Virginia recognize that there is no one silver bullet to solve our nation’s energy crisis,” State Senator and Virginia Beach resident Frank Wagner told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in 2009. “The solution must be thought of as a silver shotgun shell, with each pellet as important as the next.” A lot of politicians agreed with Wagner; the federal government prepared to sell leases to oil and gas companies off the coast of Virginia, adding the fuel there to the national energy supply.

The zeal to drill, however, stopped cold in April 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 people and spilled roughly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government imposed a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling in the Atlantic, a move that was widely supported by a populace wanting to understand just what went wrong.

When that moratorium expired, the U.S. Minerals Management Service unveiled a five-year energy plan to begin in 2012. Virginia was not included. In fact, no East Coast state was part of the plan, effectively ending moves to tap Atlantic oil and gas until at least 2017. Or so it seemed.

For many pro-drilling Virginians, the commonwealth’s exclusion from the energy plan didn’t sit right. Several were downrightincensed. They saw it as a broken promise and began a quiet campaign to hasten the day that the waters off Virginia would reopen for drilling. That’s where Virginia offshore drilling stands now: officially off limits until at least 2017 but the target of political maneuvering that may allow exploration to begin within the next few months.

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