Drilling Down: The risks and rewards of offshore oil

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — People in Hampton Roads see offshore oil drilling in starkly different ways – either as a platform for prosperity, or a calamity waiting to happen.  The Trump administration wants to see more of it , including off our beaches.

The industry says offshore drilling will pump up our economy with high paying jobs, but a number of local stakeholders and key political leaders are saying don’t drill, baby, don’t drill.

“If you look at the polling data in this area, we still see a majority of people do support this,” says Miles Morin, the executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council.

Rep. Scott Taylor sees just the opposite.  “That is not the overwhelming feedback that I’m receiving and my office is receiving about offshore drilling. It’s just not. Not even close.”

Taylor’s second US district includes the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and the Eastern Shore.

Eight years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, opponents talk in terms of risk.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s local director worries about what a spill would do to marine life. “An entire blue crab age class (could) be out in the ocean, and if there’s a spill at that time, an entire year’s blue crab population is gone,” said Christy Everett.

Craig Quigley, the head of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, says offshore rigs would have an adverse effect on military training.

Democrat Governor Ralph North Northam is also opposed. “We don’t need a misadventure with offshore drilling contaminating our water.”

Supporters talk in terms of reward.

“Offshore drilling would generate about $2.1 billion in economic activity, and create about 16,800 jobs in the Hampton Roads area,” Morin said.

Morin says the Deepwater disaster triggered new laws and standards which have made drilling much safer.

“We’re lightyears ahead of where we were before. We have technology now that didn’t even exist at the time to cap subsea wells. There have been 50,000 wells drilled in the Gulf since 1950, and we’ve only had one major incident like this, so our track record is very good.”

The Consumer Energy Alliance says offshore rigs would be out of sight from the beach, would meet our energy demands in the coming years and provide a stimulus that would help local tourism.

But for Quigley, an offshore rig doesn’t have to start burning or leaking to be a problem. He looks at how vital Virginia’s waters are to military training, including Navy vessels and aircraft, air force jets and special ops helicopters. Quigley says if they can’t do it here, they’ll go elsewhere.

“Once I start populating the waters off the Virginia coast with oil and gas drilling rigs I have multiple hazards to navigation.”

Morin says the industry knows where to drill and where not to drill. “We’re only gonna drill in compatible areas, and there’s plenty of space in the Atlantic for everybody to get along.”

Republican Virginia Beach Congressman Scott Taylor is at the forefront of the drilling issue. His US 2nd District includes the Oceanfront and the Eastern Shore.

Taylor says after hearing from residents and key stakeholders in the military, tourism and the fishing industry, he’s opposed to drilling. So are Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, all Democrats. Northam says he sees no benefit whatsoever in offshore drilling.

The industry says Hampton Roads has an opportunity to create high-paying jobs. Morin says the jobs on the platforms average over $100,000 a year, and drilling would create additional indirect jobs in construction, real estate, financial services, architecture, engineering and retail.

But one of the area’s leading developers, Bruce Thompson, is opposed. His properties include the rebirth of the landmark Cavalier hotel, a new Oceanfront Marriott in the works, and other Oceanfront hotels, restaurants and retail space. Thompson says offshore drilling would put too much at stake. “Not only our tourism industry but our overall quality of life. That’s absurd and obscene, and I won’t stand for it anymore.”

The Virginia Beach Hotel Association says it firmly opposes offshore drilling.

The US Department of Interior decides whether to sell leases to drillers. That agency is currently evaluating public input.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and other organizations are holding an offshore drilling protest Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Oceanfront at 25th Street.

More on the effects of Deepwater Horizon spill on Gulf of Mexico:

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