Drilling for oil off Virginia’s coast is once again a possibility, popping up like a zombie when we thought it was dead (again). As the New York Times reported, “Efforts are focusing on Virginia because the public, politicians in both parties and energy companies all favor opening the waters to drilling.”
It will be news to many members of the Virginia public that we favor drilling off our coast, but there’s no doubt that oil companies are itching to open the Atlantic coast to drilling rigs, and plenty of Virginia politicians make it a talking point. Senators Warner and Webb are on board, as is Senator-elect Tim Kaine. Most famously, Governor McDonnell came into office dreaming of the highways he would build when his tanker ship came in.
For oil companies, Virginia is the thin edge of the wedge. Our share of federal waters is quite small because of the odd way that boundary lines are drawn. Virginia is targeted mainly as a means of cracking the line of resistance created by other eastern states. It’s a shame so many of our politicians are eager to help in the cracking.
It used to be that when Democrats and Republicans agreed on something, that improved the odds of it being a good idea. These days, it often just means they are taking money from the same corporations. Money alone may not buy a politician’s votes, but it most certainly buys lobbyists access to politicians, and access has a way of producing votes. So perhaps the surprise is not how many politicians have jumped on the drill-baby-drill bandwagon, but how many have not.
Some naysayers, including Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Fairfax), point out that drilling off our coast is opposed by the U.S. Navy, which uses most of Virginia’s leasing area for its operations. These include testing air and surface missiles and bombs, which traditionally don’t pair well with oil rigs and tankers. (On the other hand, the Navy supports offshore wind farms, which would be located away from operations.
Other legislators, like Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) oppose drilling because of the environmental hazards, and the danger posed to fishing and tourism.
Of course, no politician will admit to being unconcerned about the environment, including the ones who are very obviously unconcerned about the environment. This is why they say they support “environmentally safe offshore oil drilling.” The phrase is so familiar that we have come to take it for granted, but it actually bears some thinking about. Saying he supports “safe oil drilling” suggests a politician has in mind another kind of oil drilling--the unsafe kind--that he would not support.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find any restrictions on the drilling industry that the drill-baby-drill crowd supports. These politicians considered offshore drilling “environmentally safe” right up to the day millions of barrels of oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage. Drilling methods haven’t changed since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and oil spills have continued to occur in the Gulf and elsewhere.
So let’s put in a plug for Truth in Advertising. Politicians, if you think extra American oil is worth the occasional catastrophic oil spill, then say so. Pretending there will never again be another Deepwater Horizon makes you look out of touch with reality, and the fact that a significant proportion of the voters are also out of touch with reality is not an excuse.
If you’re okay with drilling, tell us your Plan B for Virginia: how you would deal with the effects of a spill that fouls our coastline, kills wildlife, and contaminates everything that lives in the ocean, over an area that could be hundreds or thousands of square miles. If winds and tides spread the contamination onto Assateague Island or into the Chesapeake Bay, what’s your plan?
The folks in our commercial and fishing industries, and all the people who live and work in beach towns, should hear you talk about how confident you are in their ability to get by for a season on government handouts; if there’s longer-lasting damage, how maybe they can move to Northern Virginia and work in retail. I’m sure you can make it sound appealing.
And if you can’t, then maybe it’s time to kill the drilling zombie for good. You may be taking money from oil companies, but your job is to look out for Virginia.