Virginia’s three top state elected leaders are holding to their support for exploratory oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of Virginia in the wake of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We will learn from Louisiana. We will have additional federal regulations. We will have new technology. Once we get some of those things fixed, I hope the secretary of the interior will get the environmental impact statement back on track. Then we can move forward,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said on the issue two weeks ago.
Sen. Jim Webb’s office responded to our query on offshore drilling with a comment made by the senator on May 27. “I have stated repeatedly that we must get all the facts about how this disaster occurred,” Webb had said in the May statement. “First we must determine whether technology exists that would have prevented this deepwater drilling disaster. If such technology is available, then we must examine current business and government practices to determine why the system failed and what more needs to be done to maintain safety for our platform workers and the protection of our coastal waters for fishing, commerce and tourism.
“In order to increase America’s energy independence and address our energy needs, we must continue to pursue robust energy policies that include conservation, renewable and efficient energy measures, and the expansion of our domestic energy resources in a safe and secure manner,” Webb’s statement said.
Kevin Hall, the spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, told us that Warner’s position on drilling is that “it’s appropriate to pause and learn what we can from the Gulf situation so deepwater offshore drilling can be made safer going forward. Oil and natural gas will be part of our nation’s energy mix for several more years at least, so we should try to incorporate more domestic production as long as it’s done safely. Warner favors an ‘all of the above’ portfolio aproach on energy.”
In March, the three enthusiastically greeted the news that President Barack Obama had approved the sale of leases for exploratory drilling off the Virginia coast as early as late 2011. The Gulf disaster involving an exploratory BP rig was but three weeks into the future from that announcement.
Obama on May 27 put the kibosh on the plans, canceling the lease sale. The move was met with strong support from Democrats and leaders in neighboring states who had been critical of the announcement from the Obama administration regarding offshore drilling off the East Coast in the first place.
The response from the Virginia delegation is not surprising from a political standpoint, said Bob Holsworth, a political analyst and editor of the Virginia Tomorrow blog.
“It’s hard for them to say, We were dead wrong. I made a terrible mistake. I never should have done that,” Holsworth said.
The senators as centrist Democrats have more wiggle room than McDonnell witih a Republican base still eager to drill baby, drill.
“They can still make the case that it’s reasonable under certain circumstances to explore drilling options. We want to make sure all the environmental controls are there. Basically let’s let somebody else lead the fight against it,” Holsworth said.
“McDonnell’s position is consistent with where most Republicans are. On the other hand, it seems that the obstacles have gotten much higher much more quickly,” Holsworth said.
Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at [email protected].