By Peter Galuszka
Pressure is building to open up Atlantic seafloor off of Virginia for oil exploration.
This time, according to a New York Times article, both of Virginia’s Democratic Senators are on board with Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the state’s mostly GOP Congressional contingent to open up tracts off the coast for seismic exploration perhaps next year.
It isn’t certain how much, if any, oil or gas is off the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern coasts. Testing hasn’t been done in 20 years since a moratorium on drilling was put in place for the area. President Barack Obama had planned to put tracts off Virginia on a list for exploration in March 2010, but took them off after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico a month later.
It isn’t clear if Virginia’s politicians will be successful. McDonnell has been highlighting offshore oil as part of his scheme to make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast” while Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb want to work with the U.S. Department of the Interior to begin lease sales and to adjust the way Virginia would get oil revenues.
Environmentalists have long been opposed to drilling, noting that the area has rich fishing grounds and is prone to hurricanes, as Superstorm Sandy underlined. Another opponent is the Navy, which has a huge presence in Tidewater and uses the areas targeted for exploration for naval maneuvers.
Another aspect is determining how much oil from offshore Virginia is really needed. If that’s the case, is it worth the risk?
Some early estimates show predict that there may be 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 21 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern coast. That’s comparable to four year’s worth of production from the Gulf of Mexico. There is a possibility that more may exist, but also there could be less.
Scheming to open up Virginia offshore oil has been going on for years. In fact, a major high-end community and golf sources near Cape Charles were once under lease to a big Texas construction firm that expected to be fabricating giant offshore rigs for the area’s waters.
In recent years, however, U.S. oil markets have changed dramatically. Hydraulic fracking, a controversial method of drilling for gas in shale, has resulted in an unexpected flood of natural gas that has turned energy markets in the U.S. on their heads. New drilling for oil in the Dakotas and elsewhere has greatly increased oil flows.
In fact, the International Energy Agency recently predicted that the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the top global producer int he world within eight years.
If true, the development takes some of the urgency away from politicians who claim that America must wean itself from foreign energy dependence. Facts show that the U.S. is doing exactly that.
This would tend to make skepticism a healthy way to look at offshore drilling. The U.S. seems to be doing just fine without Virginia oil and gas. The politicians need to make a better case otherwise.
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