President Barack Obama did the right thing yesterday by announcing that the federal government is cancelling a proposed lease sale that would have allowed drilling for oil and natural gas on 2.9 million acres of ocean bottom that lies more than 50 miles east of Virginia.
The Chesapeake's blue crabs are dancing with joy.
The environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico –- where the amount of oil spilled now may surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster -- is a vivid illustration of why the risks of offshore drilling in our region far exceed the benefits.
Blue crab populations have recently rebounded in the Chesapeake Bay, underwater grasses have spread in recent years and water clarity has improved. But all of this progress could easily be wiped out by a BP-style blanket of petroleum. That's too much of a gamble.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said this about offshore drilling: “Safeguards are never foolproof. And their effectiveness can be further mitigated by human error. Moreover, clean, safe alternatives such as wind and solar power as well as energy conservation readily exist that will provide the energy and jobs needed without threatening our communities, our economy, the military, and the Bay."
To read a transcript of President Obama's statements yesterday, visit the White House website. The President has reversed his position on Atlantic coast drilling since his March announcement in favor of opening up the East Coast from Virginia to Florida to offshore oil exploration. And this reversal has disappointed some officials in Virginia.
Governor Robert McDonnell, who has made offshore drilling one of his administration's top priorities, has continued to support drilling even after the deadly April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, The Washington Post reports.
On Thursday, McDonnell said he understood, but disagreed, with Obama's decision to cancel plans for proposed lease sales off the Virginia coast, the newspaper writes.
"I do not believe outright cancellation was the only alternative,'' McDonnell said in The Post. "It is my hope that the president's action does not signal the end of offshore energy exploration and production off Virginia in the years ahead."
Virginia's Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, had both endorsed McDonnell's drilling plan, according to the (Newport News, Va) Daily Press. But support has cooled since the Gulf of Mexico spill. And on Thursday, both of the Virginia senators issued statements saying they supported Obama's decision to cancel the lease sale and continue to study the Gulf of Mexico spill.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has expressed opposition to the drilling proposal. And Last week, U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, sent a letter to President Obama asking him to abandon plans for an oil drilling lease sale along the coast of Virginia due to concerns from the military.
The senators said that a recent Defense Department report showed that offshore drilling would interfere with military operations in the region.
“The risks to our national security are simply too high,” the senators wrote. "We urge you to abandon all plans for oil and gas exploration and development in this area.”
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo pf President Obama at oil spill press conference yesterday courtesy of White House. Photo of blue crab from Chesapeake Bay Program)