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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

Connolly, Scott, Beyer Cite Concerns about Oil & Gas Drilling Off Virginia Coast in Joint Letter to Interior Secretary Jewell

February 20, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressmen Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), and Don Beyer (VA-8) today wrote Interior Secretary Sally Jewell citing their serious concerns that Virginia and neighboring states are included in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas development.

The Virginia congressmen asked Jewell to reconsider the decision to include portions of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf in the offshore leasing program for 2017-2022. Instead, they suggested that the Interior Department “build on opportunities to expand renewable energy production, such as wind energy,” which has the potential to generate nearly as much energy as offshore drilling and create 50 percent more jobs.

“While we recognize the tremendous strides you and the Administration have made toward American energy independence and appreciate there must be a balanced approach between conservation and oil and gas development to meet our energy needs, we are deeply troubled that the Department has reversed its moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast, specifically in waters off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,” Connolly, Scott, and Beyer said in their letter.

The Virginia congressmen warned that drilling in waters off the mid-Atlantic coast could have a serious impact on the region’s economy, employment, and environment, including the Department of Defense (DOD) presence in Hampton Roads, the region’s commercial fisheries, and the tourism and recreation industries. “It threatens local economies, ecosystems, natural resources, and poses significant national security concerns.  The risks far outweigh the rewards,” they said.

“The Navy and NASA have repeatedly said that Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling could significantly affect their abilities to carry out training and testing activities in support of America’s national security and strategic interests,” Connolly, Scott, and Beyer said.  They cited a May 2010 DOD report which found that nearly 80 percent of the proposed leasing area off Virginia’s coast would interfere with U.S. Navy training and operations.

In their letter to Jewell, Connolly, Scott, and Beyer cited studies showing defense-related activities and spending account for 41.2 percent of the Hampton Roads region’s economy and 40 percent of the jobs, generating approximately $35.2 billion in gross regional product and 393,000 jobs.  Similarly, fishing, tourism, and recreation support more than 91,000 jobs in Virginia and add $5 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy.

Calling DOI’s decision to reverse the moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic coast “short sighted,” the Virginia congressmen said offshore drilling will yield only a few days-worth of the nation’s oil and gas supply.  “The Department itself has made note of the ‘lack of infrastructure to support oil and gas exploration and development as well as spill preparedness and response’ along the Atlantic Coast in deferring such activities in the past,” they said.

Connolly, Scott, and Beyer commended the Administration for recently taking action to protect 12 million acres of Alaska’s Arctic National Refuge from drilling, but said, “It is disappointing and ironic for the Administration to simultaneously expose Virginia’s coastline to many of the same threats.”

Feb. 20 letter from Reps. Connolly, Scott, and Beyer to Interior Secretary Jewell:

 

February 20, 2015

 

The Honorable Sally Jewell

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Interior

1849 C St. NW

Washington, D.C. 20240

 

Dear Secretary Jewell:

We write to express serious concerns with the Department of Interior’s recently released draft Five-Year program for oil and gas development. While we recognize the tremendous strides you and the Administration have made toward American energy independence and appreciate there must be a balanced approach between conservation and oil and gas development to meet our energy needs, we are deeply troubled that the Department has reversed its moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast, specifically in waters off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Drilling on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (AOCS) is a source of considerable debate in the Commonwealth. It threatens local economies, ecosystems, natural resources, and poses significant national security concerns.

For example, the Navy and NASA have repeatedly said that OCS drilling could significantly affect their abilities to carry out training and testing activities in support of America’s national security and strategic interests. A May 2010 Department of Defense report found that nearly 80 percent of the drilling area proposed to be leased off the coast of Virginia would interfere with U.S. Navy training and operations.

We worry the Interior Department’s decision could threaten the Defense Department’s presence in this region and have a significant negative effect on the regional economy.  According to a 2013 Hampton Roads Planning District Report, “Defense-related activities and spending account for 41.2% of the region’s economy, generating approximately $35.2 billion in gross regional product.” They go on to point out that the Department of Defense spending on salaries, retirement, and procurement account for approximately 393,000 jobs, or 40% of the employment in the region. Military personnel stationed in the Hampton Roads region account for more than 92,000 jobs, and $8.3 billion in salary and benefits. In addition, more than 51,000 federal civilians support DOD’s mission, and in FY 2012 regional contracts totaled more than $7.9 billion.

A recent study also found that drilling on the AOCS would have a negative effect on fishing, tourism, and recreation which support over 91,000 jobs and generate nearly $5 billion in GDP in Virginia. In 2014, there were more than 2.1 million visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore.

While the Department has proposed a 50-mile coastal buffer to minimize such multiple-use conflicts -- which also include renewable energy activities, commercial and recreational fishing, and critical habitat needs for wildlife, and other environmental concerns -- this falls short of giving our communities the protection they deserve.

What’s particularly troubling to us is that the risks far outweigh the rewards considering this short-sighted action would yield nothing more than a few days-worth of national oil and gas supply. In addition, the Department itself has made note of the “lack of infrastructure to support oil and gas exploration and development as well as spill preparedness and response” along the Atlantic Coast in deferring such activities in the past. While we commend the Administration for protecting 12 million acres of Alaska’s Arctic National Refuge from drilling, it is disappointing and ironic for the Administration to simultaneously expose Virginia’s coastline to many of the very same threats.

As the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster painfully demonstrated, we must exercise extreme caution in expanding OCS drilling. The Department’s previous assessments and moratorium on such activities off the Atlantic Coast reflected that prudence.

We instead suggest the Department build on opportunities to expand renewable energy production, such as wind energy. Studies have shown that offshore wind has the potential to create nearly as much energy as oil and gas drilling and 1.5 times as many jobs in Virginia. Let’s deliver on the promise of the “Smart from the Start” program, which is expediting commercial-scale wind energy on the federal OCS, and the recent lease auction off Virginia’s coastline. These efforts will be critical to growing a clean and renewable energy future. We respectfully urge you to reconsider this decision to include portions of the Atlantic OCS in the gas lease program for 2017-2022.  

Sincerely,

Gerald E. Connolly    
Member of Congress

Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
Member of Congress

Donald S. Beyer Jr.
Member of Congress

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