Virginians gather on beaches to say no to offshore drilling

virginiaAbout 300 Virginians stood together on Saturday during the ninth annual Hands Across the Sand event to speak out against offshore drilling and advocate for clean energy. The event was hosted at more than 118 locations nationwide and at three locations in Virginia, including Virginia Beach at 25th Street, Buckroe Beach in Hampton and Wallis Wharf on the Eastern Shore.

This year’s event fell after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management ended a 90-day comment period on the most recent offshore drilling plan, one that proposes to open up the vast majority of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.

“As we saw with the Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries,” Eileen Woll, the Offshore Energy Program Director with the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said. “In Virginia, that means risking over $3.5 billion dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs in industries that depend on healthy ocean and Chesapeake Bay waters and beaches. It’s a risk that is more real now than ever as BOEM has put us on the chopping block again.”

Featured speakers included Rep. Bobby Scott, Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomac), newly elected Hampton City Council member Eleanor Brown, Virginia Beach Mayor Lewis Jones, Virginia Beach City Councilman Ben Davenport, Del. Cheryl Turpin (D-Virginia Beach), Retired Naval Commander Joe Bouchard and representatives of the partner organizations listed below.

Communities along the Atlantic coast from Charleston, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia, have spoken out against offshore drilling, citing the risks of spills on their local economies. In Hampton Roads, several cities and counties have passed resolutions in opposition to offshore drilling including Virginia Beach and Norfolk, as well as Northampton and Accomack counties on the Eastern Shore.

“Today’s event and years of vocal opposition show that support for offshore drilling and any step to approve it is out of step with coastal residents, coastal business interests, and Virginians across the commonwealth,” Terra Pascarosa, a Campaign Organizer with Oceana Virginia, said.

Opposition has been reinforced by Gov. Ralph Northam, the majority of Virginia’s Congressional delegation, both local and statewide business associations and groups representing the aquaculture industry.

“We need clean beaches to enjoy the things we love about the beach,” Recep Ugraskan, of the Surfrider Foundation’s Virginia Beach Chapter, said. “The impacts that oil in our ocean would have on outdoor recreation and beach access in coastal areas would be crushing.”

Among the concerns of offshore drilling opponents is the well-documented need for a swift transition to clean energy sources like solar and wind. More than two-thirds of Virginia voters favor a goal of generating 100 percent of the state’s electricity using clean sources by 2030.

“Any step toward offshore oil drilling would only lock us in further to the fossil fuels that are destroying our climate,” Quan Baker, the Hampton Roads Organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said. “Coastal residents already face waters lapping at their front doors, we should do everything we can to move toward clean energy.”

Joe Bouchard, a retired Naval Commander and speaker at the Virginia Beach event, said “offshore drilling is a threat to combative readiness and something that no patriotic American would want.”

Bouchard also argued that Donald Trump’s request to remove Florida from the most recent draft of the oil and gas leasing program threatens Virginia’s large military presence. If drilling were to happen in Virginia but not in a state like Florida, “we may see our aircraft carriers relocated, which would be a $1 billion dollar hit to our economy.”