- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

Twenty days after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill rocked the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the U.S. Department of Interior canceled the proposed sale of a gas and oil drilling lease, Lease 220, off Virginia’s coast.

Almost five years later, the possibility of oil and gas drilling off Delmarva has reappeared, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announcing in January that a draft oil and gas leasing program for 2017-2022 would include one sale in the Atlantic.

According to the bureau, an area of about 2.9 million acres off Virginia may contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A lease would give companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron a chance to drill for those resources, which many contend would bring economic activity to the region.

Virginia is ready for a lease, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in comment submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and prepared to support the potential new energy industry. A study into the state’s preparedness is currently being completed.

Another part of that preparation has meant working with the military to avoid conflicts. Katie Hodgins of U.S. Fleet Forces Command said the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia and the Department of Defense are planning to conduct an assessment to determine the compatibility of a lease sale with their operations.

NASA is asking to be involved in the draft proposed program process, restating concerns brought up with Lease 220. The range must be clear of personnel and property before a launch, and some launches, such as the twice-a-year International Space Station cargo resupply, have a window of five minutes or less.

“The presence of either temporary or fixed structures at or below the sea surface, within our range’s hazard areas, would have significant detrimental effects on our ability to conduct aerospace test activities,” NASA said in a comment. “Even the temporary presence of support ships or aircraft within a mission’s hazard areas can result in mandatory range safety criteria not being met, leading to missed launch opportunities.”

The majority of the area that was proposed for lease off Virginia in 2010 lies within recent mission hazard areas. NASA said in its comments that it is committed to working with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in future efforts to identify areas to enable offshore oil and gas development that would be sited to avoid impacts on Wallops.

Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford said while his major concern about offshore drilling is for water quality, he has also considered the impact on “major economic drivers,” such as the Wallops Flight Facility.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to see why dropping a (rocket) stage onto an oil rig would be a problem,” he said.

Ford was also concerned for jobs based around the tourism industry and aquaculture. Oysters harvested in the wild and through aquaculture created $58 million in economic activity last year, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

“Those jobs would evaporate overnight if we had any kind of spill,” Ford said.

The Virginia Department of Mine, Minerals and Energy said in its comments to the bureau that the state has enacted legislation to ensure that the first $50 million in royalties from natural gas and oil production be set aside for emergency preparation, response and mitigation associated with offshore oil.

In comments to the bureau regarding the 2017-2022 draft proposed program, Delaware asked to be excluded, instead encouraging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to focus on renewable energy. Eileen Levandoski, assistant director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club would like to see something similar in Virginia.

“We would argue that clean energy jobs, like offshore wind, are way better jobs and more plentiful jobs,” she said.

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Information from: Eastern Shore News: https://www.delmarvanow.com/news/virginia/


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