Offshore Drilling

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Virginia Beach votes to oppose offshore drilling More »

Virginia Beach, once a holdout among coastal cities publicly staking out no-drilling stances, this week voted to oppose oil and gas exploration and seismic testing in its offshore waters.

The move is a remarkable turnaround for a city council that once embraced the idea of offshore oil rigs. Then, in 2015, the city switched to a “neutral” position in deference to the Navy and its concerns. Several councilmembers this year changed their minds, citing worries about how oil drilling might affect both the tourism industry and the Navy.

The ocean off the coast of Virginia Beach is a critical training ground for Navy sailors and aviators. Navy officials in 2015 said the presence of oil rigs would interfere with exercises and could affect the service’s readiness. And for the past two years, a growing coalition of business leaders in the hospitality industry has pressed city council to oppose drilling.

“This is a vote to protect our beach, and to protect all the businesses, workers and visitors who depend on our beach,” said Laura Habr, co-owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro and a founding member of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast. “Our tourism economy is too important to take for granted and the Council has thankfully decided offshore drilling is not worth the risk.”

The state’s largest city, Virginia Beach counts 12,000 workers in the hospitality industry with a combined yearly salary of $244 million. Tourists bring about $1.4 billion annually to the city economy, according to the city’s records.

The move was particularly notable because Virginia Beach makes up almost all of the state’s Atlantic Ocean border. Northampton and Accomack counties, the only other Virginia municipalities that share the Atlantic, previously passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

Because Virginia Beach is such an influential city, Lynnhaven River NOW Executive Director Karen Forget says she hopes other leaders will notice.

“We are proud of the Virginia Beach City Council for taking a stand on this important issue,” Forget said. “We hope that it will inspire others, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to reconsider their positions on offshore drilling and seismic testing. It is not worth the risk to our waterways, to tourism, to the Navy’s offshore operations, and to our wildlife.”

The Virginia Beach vote comes at a crucial point as the Trump Administration has indicated they are considering reversing a previous decision to place Atlantic waters off limits to offshore drilling. Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, said the desires of Atlantic Coast communities will play a role in the Trump Administration’s eventual decision.

The Virginia Beach City Council now joins the leadership of more than a hundred Atlantic seaside cities and towns have previously passed anti-drilling resolutions. They include Atlantic City and Cape May in New Jersey; Lewes and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; the North Carolina beaches of the Outer Banks; Charleston and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; Savannah, Ga.; and Jacksonville Beach and Miami Beach in Florida.

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Defending Our Southern Coasts

Our Southern beaches are world famous destinations and our fisheries are among the most productive in the world. For 30 years, SELC has worked to protect our coastal resources and we remain a leading voice against opening the Southeast and new areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling.

Risks of Oil Drilling

In early 2015, the federal government announced it was considering opening up the Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling, a significant shift in federal policy that would jeopardize the communities, jobs, and beloved beaches that are the very heart of our coastal states. 

The possibility of drilling off the coast galvanized locals who knew the dangers it posed to the area’s economy and environment. Altogether, more than 100 communities up and down the coast passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and the harmful seismic testing that precedes it. 

In response to the incredible opposition from coastal communities, in 2016 the federal government removed the Atlantic from its offshore leasing plan, protecting all that is special about the Southeast coast.

Coastal Riches

The beautiful and biologically rich Southeast coastal areas and our Gulf Coast feature some of the most beloved places in the country, including the Chesapeake Bay, the Pamlico Sound, the ACE Basin, and Mobile Bay. Our coasts attract millions of tourists, anglers, and other visitors each year.

Tourism and fishing—both commercial and recreational—are the economic backbone of hundreds of communities along our coasts. 

Problematic Infrastructure

The environmental impacts of offshore drilling and its accompanying infrastructure and refineries onshore were well known even before the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean rigs routinely spill and leak oil—and sometimes blow out.

Even without a major spill, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, traffic, and routine spills and accidents—would irreparably change our coastal communities and economies.

Seismic Testing 

Even though they are closely related, offshore drilling is regulated separately from seismic testing, a process of using loud airguns to test the ocean floor for fuels. So despite the recent decision to protect the Southeast from offshore drilling, the oil and gas industry continues to push seismic testing and the federal government is currently considering applications for seismic testing in the Atlantic.

Seismic testing is a means to one end: offshore oil and gas development, and it is widely opposed by residents, businesses, and local governments up and down the East Coast. There is absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling. SELC continues to work alongside coastal communities to ensure seismic testing does not move forward.

Not Worth the Risk

The South has too much to lose and too little to gain by opening up the Southeast coast and eastern Gulf to offshore oil drilling. Instead SELC advocates increased energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy sources like offshore wind and solar.

For more information and to get involved, visit ProtectOurCoastNow.com.