offshore-oil-rigBy Peter Galuszka

Terry McAuliffe’s flip-flop on opposing offshore oil drilling in Virginia is unsettling given that the last time the Democrat ran for governor in 2009, he seemed skeptical of drilling for oil although he thought searching for natural gas might be beneficial.

He apparently changed his position because he’s been with fresh legislation proposed by Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, his fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Their bill would mandate that roughly half of any revenues from offshore petroleum either go to Virginia or to federal conservation programs in the state with the remainder going to Washington.

The Warner-Kaine bill would make Virginia’s cut from any potential revenues more in line with what Gulf Coast states get, but it puts pressure on the Obama Administration to speed up leasing for oil and gas drilling rights which had been delayed until 2017.

It would be hard for McAuliffe, now embroiled in a tough fight against Republican Atty. Gen Kenneth Cuccinelli , to go against two popular Democrats who pretty much paved the way for his candidacy.

That, however, doesn’t mean that any of the Democrats is making a wise move.

There was a collective sigh of relief in 2010 when Obama put East Coast leasing plans on ice following the blow-out and huge spill at the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and fouled local seafood and tourist beaches. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was forced to shelve part of his plans, notably offshore drilling, to make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”

It turns out that Democrats want to do the very same thing and it’s a bad idea.

For starters, there’s no serious evidence that there is much oil offshore, although there are indications that natural gas deposits might be available. So, oil and gas drilling don’t currently contribute anything to the state’s economy and may never.

What do contribute are sectors such as tourism ($200 billion in 2011), seafood ($191 million in 2011) and the Navy ($15 billion in 2009). These industries and the jobs they bring the state are cold, hard facts. A Deepwater-sized spill could do enormous damage to beach resorts and fishing. The Navy is worried that most of the areas that could be leased would impede combat training which involves explosives and aircraft carrier operations.

Some experts believe that not enough has been done to bring offshore drilling safety operations and technology much beyond the level when the Deepwater blast occurred.

Environmentalists point out that extending offshore drilling to Virginia and the East Coast only prolongs America’s dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuel. But there’s a more immediate problem. Thanks to new onshore drilling technologies, the U.S. is suddenly brimming with natural gas and shale oil. The new additions are turning global energy markets on their heads.

Why go for more off the same off  of Virginia considering the risks to existing and robust industries?

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16 responses to “McAuliffe’s Offshore Drilling Flip-Flop”

  1. I don’t speak with any authority here, but I believe that there’s a huge difference in risk between deep-water drilling operations like the Deepwater Horizon rig and drilling on the Continental Shelf, as would be the case in Virginia. The chances of a Deepwater Horizon-like incident occurring is just about nil.

    However, there may be a risk of a smaller incident. It would be worthwhile to get an impartial group to measure that risk. Perhaps it’s more than most people realize.

    Regarding the environmental risk associated with gas drilling… is there any measurable risk at all?

    As an aside, I spent time as a lad growing up in Norfolk-Virginia Beach. I remember encountering “tar balls” on the beach. I could never figure out where they came from. It was only later in life that I discovered that the “tar” was most likely oil emanating from merchant ships sunk during World War II. Thankfully, you don’t see them anymore.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “…just about nil?”
    I am sure that was what British Petroleum was saying right up to the blast.

  3. larryg Avatar

    what we lack these days is principled compromise positions.

    what we get is wedge issues and polarization.

    What not offshore drilling and the profits go to buy the stuff we need to reduce nutrient runoff into the bay?

    or the profits go to retrofit coal plants to generate less pollution?

    or for that matter wind turbines or solar?

  4. Breckinridge Avatar

    Gee, I’m sorry, LarryG but how about the profits go to the investors who paid for the well? Unless you think the SoV should get into the oil business – bad enough it is still retailing likker. I know profit is a difficult concept for Democrats.

    What you are talking about are the royalties or severance taxes, and money being fungible I’m happy to dedicate those to any cause you like (and I’ll play the same game as they play with the lottery, and back a like amount out from the other side come budget time and spend it where I like….)

    Drilling for oil to pay for a wind turbine reminds me of the old joke that fighting for freedom in Vietnam was like f*&%ing for virginity. I want to drill for oil for gas for the car. And I’m very happy if Exxon or whomever gets every dime of the profits.

    1. larryg Avatar

      you have no profits if you get no permit – so you have to compromise.

      get it?

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    McAuliffe’s political hands were tied when Warner and (especially) Kaine endorsed the idea of drilling for oil off the Virginia coast. Not only are they the two US Senators from Virginia they are also both former governors.

    If the current governor and every living former governor thinks drilling is worth the risks then it’s hard for a prospective governor to disagree.

    Earmarking the money that the state will receive is silly for the points that Breckenridge makes. The three card monte of declaring lottery proceeds for education and then cutting the old sources of funding for education is a well known con game used by politicians.

    Personally, I would not take this risk. There may or may not be oil. However, there is wind. I’d lean toward the “next thing” rather than the “last thing”. It’s not a “life or death” political decision for me. Offshore drilling is dangerous for the people involved. The people who engage in offshore drilling are aware of the risks. It is also potentially dangerous for the environment. The Deepwater Horizon disaster seems to have been cleaned up although the full effects of an oil spill can take years to appear. The herring fishery off of Alaska took eight years to collapse after the crash of the Exxon Valdez. The crab fishing in the gulf is still off although nobody is sure whether the Deepwater Horizon caused the decline.

  6. Breckinridge Avatar

    I actually think the odds of finding significant oil are small, but nobody will know short of full exploration. Natural gas is a better bet. You can’t really make a risk-reward analysis until you know what is there. It is very possible that the rewards will be too low to justify the risk.

    Wind turbines have environmental impacts (ask the birds). They create equal or greater navigation hazards as well. Someone is going to object to the power lines coming on shore. Nothing is risk free. But I remember being on the pier at Santa Barbara, looking at rigs far closer to shore then they might be off Virginia, and I didn’t see any shortage of tourists that lovely August day. BP and its shareholders have paid a huge price for their accident with more to come, and that is one way to reign in reckless behavior — make ’em pay the damages.

    1. larryg Avatar

      wind turbines kill .001% of the total birds killed from all sources and the vast majority are killed by cars, cats, buildings, comms and power towers.

      I look for the win-win – rather than the “wait till our guys get elected” approach which gets us where we are right now.

      how are you going to really go forward – not argue – but do something?

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    Well, flip flopping seems to be the “in thing to do” there days if you are running for governor of Virginia.

    Ken Cuccinelli’s compassionate conservative makeover features the restoration of rights for people convicted of crimes (after they have served their sentence). Unfortunately for the Cooch, he has a long and consistent record of opposing the restoration of rights for former criminals who have served their time –

    I find Cuccinelli’s flip flop worse than McAuliffe’s since Cuccinelli has made the restoration of rights a hallmark of his campaign.

  8. Jim:

    You are lucky that you only found “tar balls.” Where I played in the sand, Texas’ Galveston Bay, down two-three feet was six inches of black. Apparently, at the beginning of WWII the tankers were sitting ducks as they came out of the Houston Ship Channel backlit by the refineries running 40 miles into downtown Houston.

    NOte the commenter that every dime should go to Exxon, whatever. ALL Western oil companies combined control only six percent of the worls’d conventional oil reserves. The easy-to-get-to, less-risky-getting-it oil, doesn’t exist for the Western oil companies. They’d rather be popping shallow holes (like I did as a kid on the Denver basin at 7,000 feet) or even in holes where the rig stayed for a couple years (as I also did as a roughneck in the Permian Basin at 28,000 feet) and would really rather stay out of the deep water or above the Arctic Circle BUT…they don’t have much choice.
    They are, remember, “oil companies.”

    Deepwater technology is breathtaking, by the way. Gyroscopes and computers hold those thousands-of-tons rigs over a string of pipe four inches in diamter, with a three inch hold down the middle during storms, during hurricanes, during anything. The rigs are NOT anchored to the bottom by anything but the drill string and the casing. It’s amazing that the engineers have figured out how to survive 20-foot waves and 80 mph winds.

    But, like all technology, this technology is doomed to fail because, ususally humans are operating it. The week prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill, a local editor just happened to run one of my pieces about what the Australians call “America’s technological trap.” We keep thinking that technology will save us and, therefore, push to replace all the bulbs in our homes with florescent…as if we didn’t know that lighting uses only five percent of the energy in any home.

    At some point, we’ve got to begin addressing our consumption of energy.

    Dr. McKenzie-Mohr, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior, notes that we’ve got address our consumptive lifestyles and world population but we’re still hoping that technology will save us. Fracking might eliminate our dependency on OPEC oil and gas but it won’t stop the climb in Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. More efficient CAFE standards have consistently been shown to actually increase, not decrease, oil consumption. Throwing out perfectly good bulbs fills landfills faster.

    “We will change our behavior because Mother Nature always bats last,” as Dr. McKenzie-Mohr puts it. “The question is whehter we’ll do it with any grace.”

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Provocative opinion beautifully expressed. Thank you, Salz.

    2. Breckinridge Avatar

      Mother Nature bats last. That is an insight I will remember. But we are unlikely to respond with grace.

      Agreed. We are still too reckless with our consumption but the solution to that is the price. And I don’t install CFL bulbs until the old one burns out. I am a true conservative.

      1. larryg Avatar

        that got me a tickle Breckinridge.. but you should feel damn guilty that you’re screwing up mother nature with mercury from those damn nasty CFLs.

        how dare you pollute the earth in the name of “green”!

  9. I don’t see a big problem with an elected official or a candidate changing his or her position on an issue. Can anyone truly state that his/her political/economic beliefs on specific issues are the same today as they were when they were 22? Could some of McAuliffe’s change be purely political? Sure. He might have “caved” in light of Warner and Kaine’s bill. He might have always believed drilling was reasonable, but wanted supported of those who opposed it. He might have been persuaded his former position was wrong.

    Fairfax County supervisor Linda Smyth was very pro-development when she was on the Planning Commission and during her first term as supervisor. Her experience with several developments in her district and a 2007 primary challenge from Charlie Hall caused her to be more cautious. As a result, she helped broker a reasonable plan for Tysons that included a number of protections for the public – protections she would have likely opposed a few years earlier.

    McAuliffe is a lot like Gerry Connolly, greasy. But that doesn’t mean McAuliffe is wrong for changing his mind.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I think Cuccinelli is greasy. He was up to his eyebrows in the US Navy Vertrans hoax and took forever to give back the money. He has a man crush on the CEO of Star Scientific and has his hand deeply in the SS cookie jar despite the fact that Star Scientific is suing the state. He ‘forgot” to declare his Star Scientific stock holding even though it was the only stock he owned. He “forgot” to disclose gifts from Star Scientific. He “forgot” to recuse himself from the case with Star Scientific until he “remembered” all the gifts, etc. His web site claimed that he attended Fairfax County public schools until people pointed out that he graduated from Gonzaga High School. He remained as Attorney General despite spending his time writing a book and campaigning. He claims to be a champion of the restoring of rights for former prisoners although he voted against that over and over and over again during his time in the state legislature.

      This guy is an out and out con man and so is his buddy running for LG.

  10. larryg Avatar

    I’m with TMT on this. there is a difference between a flip-flop and “evolving” although I do wonder when it happens when “convenient”.

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