Opposition building against Atlantic drilling

Virginia's lieutenant governor wants state excluded from any future development plans.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Feb. 26, 2016 at 7:42 AM
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RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Opposition to a lease plan for the U.S. waters of the Atlantic grew after Virginia said it wanted to be left out of any future drilling plans.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam issued a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management saying the state was best served by staying out of future offshore drilling activity. With the state competing for business with the U.S. military, and tourism supporting 20 percent of the workforce, Northam said he was wary of moving in support of future development plans.

"It would be best to take a conservative approach and exclude Virginia from the proposed leasing program," he said in his letter.

The U.S. Interior Department in February released a draft proposal for 2017-2022 for access to federal waters. Ten leases are planned for the Gulf of Mexico, three for offshore Alaska and one, a debut, for waters in the Atlantic.

The National Ocean Industries Association, an industry group lobbying for more offshore work, said about 1.34 million barrels of oil equivalent per day could be produced from the Atlantic basin by 2035.

In early February, the city council in Washington D.C. voted unanimously on a measure expressing opposition to drilling and seismic activity in the Atlantic Ocean, joining other regional metropolitan areas like Baltimore and Charleston, S.C.

Claire Douglass, a campaign director for advocacy group Oceana, said Virginia's reservations highlight the economic risks to conventional sources of revenue.

"Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation," she said in a statement.

Virginia Petroleum Council Executive Director Mike Ward countered earlier this year the industry already supports about 140,000 jobs in the Virginia and adds more than $7 billion to state coffers.

Washington in 2014 opened up Atlantic waters from Virginia to Florida for seismic testing.

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