Offshore energy production benefits and dangers debated

The debate over offshore drilling off Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) --The push continues to allow offshore energy development in the waters off Virginia Beach. Proponents say the move will mean jobs and lead to American energy independence.

But critics worry about damage to the environment, and wonder if oil and natural gas production could peacefully co-exist with military and NASA operations in the same vicinity.

The U.S. Department of the Interior this January proposed opening the Mid- and South Atlantic regions to offshore oil and gas leasing.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's draft 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program includes Virginia among new areas to be opened up off the Atlantic Coast.

Specifically, an area of about 2.9 million acres off Virginia, which may contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

But, the Navy already conducts much training in the area. In the past, it has expressed reservations about drilling. But, in a statement to 13 News Now, the Office of the Chief of Information said: "The Navy supports domestic energy development when it is compatible with operations and training."

NASA has been vocal in the past about potential impacts on the Goddard Space Flight Center at Wallops Island. But, when asked for a position statement this week, their office of communication said: "We are working closely with them at this time to examine how our mission activates at Wallops may coexist with potential offshore energy development."

Eileen Levandoski of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club says possibly interfering with the Navy and NASA would be a mistake.

"This is to be treated as an encroachment on their activities and a threat to their activities and it would be very unwise," she said.

But 2nd District Congressman Scott Rigell, who was a keynote speaker at a Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce forum this week promoting the potential economic boost that would come from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, said that energy development, the Navy and NASA can co-exist.

"We as Americans can figure out a way to do both," said Rigell. "There's no question in my mind that we as Americans can do this, in fact we need to do this."

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine support the idea. But, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, the Virginia Beach Hotel Association and the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission have said they oppose drilling.


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