President Barack Obama’s recent plan to open areas off the coast from Virginia to Georgia to offshore oil and natural gas drilling is both risky and unnecessary. It’s a lot of risk for potentially modest gains.
Obama had intended to open up tracts 50 miles offshore five years ago but cut it short after the Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil that affected some 500 miles of shoreline.
Depending upon wind and current conditions, a similar incident off of Virginia or North Carolina could impact highly sensitive areas of the Eastern Shore and perhaps the Chesapeake Bay, not to mention the tourist-rich areas of Virginia Beach.
What’s the gain? Not a whole lot. The most recent studies show that there may be 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the offshore tracts. These are fractions of national estimates of oil and gas. True, there may be more, the oil industry hopes, but the fact remains that these are current estimates.
At the moment, controversial fracking has resulted in a glut of natural gas and oil that has sent petroleum prices plummeting. This may not be the case a decade from now when offshore drilling may start, but it shows there is no urgent need now.
The plan would keep drilling rigs at least 50 miles off shore. This is to alleviate concerns of the fishing industry and the Navy and Air Force which regularly conduct combat maneuvers offshore. One advantage is that most of the area is in shallow water which somewhat lessens the problems of drilling. The Deepwater rig was much deeper in about 5,000 feet of water.
Virginia politicians, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, like his predecessor Robert F. McDonnell, praise the plan. Curiously, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, takes a much harder line on offshore drilling. In this morning’s New York Times, he writes:
“If the a disaster of Deepwater’s scale occurred off the Chesapeake Bay, it would stretch from Richmond to Atlantic City, with states and communities with no say in drilling decisions bearing the consequences. The 50-mile buffer the administration has proposed would be irrelevant. And unlike the gulf, the Chesapeake is a tidal estuary, meaning that oil would remain in the environment for decades.”