NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Ralph Northam says he sees no value whatsoever in drilling off the coast of Virginia. He was a panelist at a forum Monday night at the Ted Constant Center at Old Dominion University, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Northam, a Democrat, and the other panelists say offshore drilling would hurt the Virginia economy and put its beaches and marine life at unnecessary risk.
“We need to wean ourselves away from fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy,” Northam said. “The last thing that we need to do right now is put oil rigs off our coast.”
The speakers also included Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Professor and President Emeritus Don Boesch, City of Norfolk Councilmember Andria McClellan, and GoldKey PHR Chief Executive Officer Bruce Thompson.
Miles Morin, Executive Director of the Virginia Petroleum Institute, was a rare supporter of offshore drilling in this crowd of about 400. He stood in the back of the room and listened. He says the benefits could be substantial for those who would get jobs from the industry.
“The average oil and gas job pays over a $100,000 a year. That would mean a lot to local families.”
But opponents say an oil spill could be devastating to our economy.
“It depends so much on the resort and the money that it brings in every year and that’s just vital to us,” said George Everett, who was born and raised in Virginia Beach.
So far the Interior Department has held one official hearing for Virginia, in Richmond — a hundred miles from any coastline. Northam says that’s short-sighted and Beach resident Karen Lyons calls it unfair.
“It’s not a fair representation of the people that live right on the coast. It would impact us the greatest.”
Beach developer Bruce Thompson says oil rigs would put too much at risk.
“Not only our tourism industry but our overall quality of life. That’s absurd and obscene, and I won’t stand for it anymore.”
Thompson says his position on offshore drilling has evolved over recent years, from ambivalence to strong opposition.
Shortly after President Trump said he wanted to open up America’s coastlines to more oil and gas exploration, Florida was able to get an exemption. Northam says he wants the same for Virginia, but says he has yet to get a response from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.