Offshore Drilling Ban Rejected by Virginia Senate

Published February 22, 2019

A Virginia Senate committee voted down a bill to ban oil and gas production off the state’s coast.

Virginia’s Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources rejected S.B. 1573, sponsored by state Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), which would have prohibited granting of permits for oil and gas exploration in any coastal waters of the Commonwealth.

The bill, rejected in January, would also have repealed part of the Code of Virginia encouraging federal efforts for natural gas exploration up to 50 miles offshore. Current law allows for oil and gas leases on bottomlands within three miles of the shore, which the federal government recognizes as belonging to Virginia.

Representatives of Virginia’s tourism industry supported DeSteph’s bill, arguing oil and gas rigs are unsightly and an oil spill could harm tourism by polluting the state’s waters.

Coalition for Drilling

Explore Offshore for Virginia (EOV), a coalition of more than 50 Virginia-based businesses, former legislators, and chambers of commerce, supports opening up new areas of the Atlantic Ocean to energy exploration, saying such development would boost Virginia’s economy.

[T]the Explore Offshore coalition [write] to express our support for offshore natural gas and oil development in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf,” EOV wrote in a letter to David Bernhardt, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. “Opening offshore federal waters to energy development presents a unique opportunity for Virginia to boost the state economy, create new well-paying jobs, and create new revenue sources for important issues such as state infrastructure and public schools,”

Offshore oil and gas production could create jobs in Virginia while helping to ensure America’s energy dominance continues, says Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council.

“Opening up the new areas in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic [Outer Continental Shelf] to energy exploration and development would help ensure the nation’s continued energy leadership, strengthen the economy, and create job security for generations to come,” Morin said. “Attempts to ban this type of opportunity for job creation and economic growth without so much as seeking to allow scientific surveys to verify the resources available off our coast are irresponsible.”

‘Nothing to Fear’

Because oil and gas production can be conducted safely, Virginians can benefit from both clean beaches and oil and gas revenues, says Timothy Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“There is no mutual exclusivity between energy exploration and development and ocean and beach protection,” said Benson. “Although no industry is 100 percent free from risk, Virginians, who are naturally protective of their beaches, and residents on the coast, really have nothing to fear from offshore oil and gas exploration, which produces millions of barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of natural gas offshore safely each year.

“Lower natural gas prices due to increased oil and gas development over the last decade have resulted in almost $11 billion in savings for residential, commercial, and industrial consumers in the Virginia,” Benson said. “Drilling offshore could save Virginians even more money.”

Understanding Before Acting

Before Virginia considers any further proposals to ban offshore energy production, the state should conduct a thorough assessment of the potential benefits and costs of such an action, says Michael Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

“There are two separate, key issues that should be determined before this bill comes back up before the General Assembly, which it undoubtedly will after our legislative elections this fall,” Thompson said. “The first is what oil and natural gas resources are sitting off Virginia’s coast. The second issue is should those resources be developed, and can this be done in an environmentally friendly way?” 

Unknown Costs

A ban on oil and gas production in Virginia’s coastal waters would impose unknown costs on the state’s economy but would not stop production, says Caleb Taylor, director of policy at the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.

“All of the major oil companies would still be drilling, and it wouldn’t affect them in the slightest, because Virginia has no jurisdiction beyond three miles, where the vast majority of oil rigs are,” said Taylor. “If this bill had passed, the cost to Virginia businesses would be high, but it would also be difficult to determine, because it is hard to know what opportunities would be lost over the coming decades, what businesses will want to do and where, and because we don’t know what kind of advances will develop in the technology used to extract and gas beneath the oceans.

“Because we don’t know the actual costs or revenues, and the change in costs and revenues over the next five to 25 years that would result if a ban on drilling in state waters is enacted, there’s no way to determine how much money and productivity would be lost to Virginia businesses,” Taylor said. “All we can say with some certainty is there will be productivity lost and nothing will be in its place to make up for it.”

Environmentalists are hypocritical about offshore energy production, says Taylor.

“SB 1573 is kind of a funny bill,” Taylor said. “It says we don’t want you to drill for oil and gas in the ocean because it could harm the environment, but it would not restrict erecting giant wind turbines out there, which would kill hundreds if not thousands of birds and be much more visible from Virginia’s coast.” 

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.                                  

Internet Info

Explore Offshore for Virginia, “Explore Offshore Letter to Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, U.S. Department of the Interior,” February 12, 2019:

Official Connections

State Sen. William DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach):; [email protected]