McDonnell Signs Virginia Law Supporting Offshore Energy Production

Published March 31, 2010

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) has signed into law a bill supporting offshore oil and gas production. McDonnell said the law is designed to send a signal to the federal government that the state supports the end of a federal moratorium on offshore exploration and production.

“We’re sending an important message that Virginia is ready to go—and there should be no reason for Washington to delay approval of the offshore lease sale and eventually exploration and drilling,” said a McDonnell press statement announcingthe signing.

Fifty miles off the Virginia coast, a tract of 2.9 million acres contains an estimated 130 million barrels of recoverable oil and 1.1 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. McDonnell and the Virginia legislature envision energy production in this region turning the state into the energy capital of the East Coast.

Bipartisan Support
“In Virginia there is a near consensus among Democrats and Republicans that offshore oil resources should be explored,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Environmental activist groups are opposing offshore energy production, but Virginians are not swayed, Sabato noted.

“This could be a source of revenue for Virginia, but beyond that, this is not a dangerous stance to take in Virginia politically,” Sabato explained. “The fact of the matter is the Democrats have not made an issue of it. To the contrary, they have signed onto it. So, politically, this act the governor signed was low-hanging fruit.”

Economic Benefits
Virginia Petroleum Council Executive Director Mike Ward said Virginians stand to reap an economic windfall from the state’s offshore natural resources.

“The best example of where this could take us is the Gulf Coast,” Ward said. “The industry that has developed down in the Gulf, and the oil and gas exploration, has benefited a number of Gulf Coast states in terms of massive new revenues, jobs, infrastructure, and everything that has gone with it. If this does take place off the East Coast, we hope similar parallels of an increase in jobs and revenues occur here in Virginia.”

Ward noted the federal government has banned offshore oil and natural gas exploration off the Atlantic coast for 25 years and improved exploration and production technology may yield far more recoverable resources than current estimates.

“There has not been any exploration for almost 25 years on what is out there,” Ward explained. “However, one study from ICS International [International Chamber of Shipping] does indicate that if you look at the technology and information from the government 25 years ago, you could end up with half-a-billion barrels of oil, and 2.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off of Virginia’s coast.”

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.