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This Week in the Watershed

Obama Keeps Virginia Coast Off Limits to Oil and Gas Drilling

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a win for clean water and the Chesapeake Bay, last week the Obama Administration announced its decision to keep Virginia's coastline off limits to offshore oil and gas drilling. In recent years, officials have considered opening up the southern Atlantic coast to drilling, a move that has been supported by many of the governors and members of Congress in the region.

Luckily, it doesn't look like drilling will take place off of Virginia's coast anytime soon. While the U.S. Department of the Interior had included oil and gas leasing off Virginia in a draft proposal released early last year, in the updated five-year plan released this month the southeastern Atlantic coast remains closed to drilling. "When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn't make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years," Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

Looming over any offshore drilling proposal is the potential for an accident that would result in environmental catastrophe. Remember the Deepwater Horizon (BP) oil spill of 2010, when more than a hundred million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and billions of dollars were spent on clean up? Imagine the devastation on the Atlantic Coast if a similar accident were to happen off Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay could suffer some of the very same impacts that plagued the Gulf area following the BP spill—oil-covered beaches, huge swaths of polluted water, and scores of dead and injured wildlife.

In fact, the waters off the mouth of the Bay are very similar to the Chesapeake itself both biologically and hydrologically. Just as science has shown the importance of healthy rivers and streams flowing into the Bay, science also tells us how important the ocean waters off the Bay's mouth are to the Bay system as a whole. The movement of clean salt water between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake is just as critical as taking care of the freshwater tributaries that feed the Bay.

After recent progress in bringing back oysters, underwater grasses, and cleaner and clearer water, drilling would add a new and dangerous threat to the health of the Bay. It's just not worth the risk. 

This goes even beyond potential environmental disasters. The Department of Defense and NASA have also raised concerns about the problems they would face from drilling off the Atlantic Coast. "The Navy and NASA have repeatedly said that Outer Continental Shelf drilling could significantly affect their abilities to carry out training and testing activities in support of America's national security and strategic interests," Virginia Congressmen Gerry Connolly, Bobby Scott, and Don Beyer said in a letter to the Interior Department last year. The congressmen noted that nearly 80 percent of the proposed leasing area off Virginia's coast would interfere with U.S. Navy training and operations, according to a Defense Department report.

Celebrating the latest news, last week Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam emphasized the many economic dangers posed by drilling. The announcement "is a big win for Virginians," he said in a statement. He noted that "40 percent of Hampton Roads' economy is tied to defense-related activities. Tourism and aquaculture generate billions of dollars for the Commonwealth. We cannot afford to jeopardize these important industries that are all tied to the health of our coastal waters."

Here at CBF, Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell applauded the decision against oil and gas drilling off the coast of Virginia, emphasizing that it is the right move for the Chesapeake. "The Bay is on a path toward recovery with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint," she said. "The benefits from chasing petroleum resources on the Atlantic Coast do not justify risking what could be dire consequences for the ecology and economy of the Mid-Atlantic region."

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

This is a huge win for Virginia and for clean water. Click here to send a thank you to President Obama for making the right call.



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