Obama Administration Blocks Virginia’s Off-Shore Drilling Plans

Published March 8, 2010

Newly sworn-in Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s pledge to make the state the “energy capital of the East Coast” has run into a roadblock as the Obama administration has announced it will block Virginia’s plans for offshore oil and natural gas production until at least 2012.

Virginians Support Production
McDonnell, who highlighted the importance of offshore energy exploration during his successful run for governor last year, was eager to get drilling underway as soon as possible. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in late December, McDonnell urged the department to lease tracts off the Virginia coast for oil and gas drilling in accordance with a five-year plan devised by the Bush administration. The lease sale would be the first off the Atlantic coast since 1983.

“Any effort to remove or delay Virginia’s participation in the lease sale would significantly hamper our efforts to create jobs [and would] eliminate much-needed new revenue and undermine support for President Obama’s commitment to make the United States more energy secure,’ McDonnell wrote.

Interior Department Delaying
Interior’s Mineral Management Service (MMS), which has jurisdiction over offshore drilling, wants to submit the plan to further review, delaying lease sales until 2012 at the earliest. An estimated 130 million barrels of oil and one trillion cubic feet of natural gas are thought to be within the proposed 2.9 million-acre drilling site located  50 miles from the Virginia coast.

McDonnell’s quest to make Virginia a leader in energy production enjoys bipartisan support in the state legislature. The General Assembly approved a pro-drilling resolution on February 8 by an overwhelming 69-28 vote.     

Salazar has also applied the brakes to many more energy production projects outside Virginia.

‘Most Anti-Energy Policy’
He is delaying a 2008 plan to begin development of rich deposits of oil shale in roughly 2 million acres of federal land in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Last fall he announced new environmental requirements would have to be met before full-scale oil shale development could get underway. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the area contains enough oil to displace all foreign oil imports for several centuries.

“Taking steps to increase the supply of affordable domestic energy ought to be a no-brainer, but this administration’s policy is to do just the opposite,” said Ben Lieberman, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. 

“This administration has reduced on-shore and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas to levels well below that of both the Bush and the Clinton administrations,” Lieberman explained.

“This is easily the most anti-energy policy since the Carter administration, and that’s not even taking into account President Obama’s support for cap and trade—a multitrillion-dollar energy tax that would kill at least a million jobs. What our struggling economy really needs is a truly pro-energy policy that expands supplies, lowers prices, and creates tens of thousands of high-paying energy industry jobs,” said Lieberman.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.