Roanoke Times: Ramadan: Trump has fresh opportunity to revisit Virginia’s energy potential
With a new administration in the White House, now is the ideal time for lawmakers to take a fresh look at offshore energy exploration, an issue with tremendous potential to impact our nation and Virginia specifically. While the Obama administration twice put Virginia (along with three other Atlantic states) on the 5-year lease plan for offshore oil and natural gas exploration, in the election year of 2016 he not only put a moratorium on the lease sale, but then took the unprecedented step of indefinitely banning offshore drilling in the Atlantic via executive order.
Yet just a few years earlier, Obama cited the Atlantic as having tremendous potential for job creation and energy independence, and on those points he was absolutely correct. Forecasts predict more than 280,000 new jobs from energy exploration in the Atlantic, with anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 in Virginia alone. It would spark more than $14 billion in economic activity in the Commonwealth, with a conservative estimate of an additional $1.8 billion in state revenue.
What’s more, Congress is now amenable to royalty sharing with the states, meaning Virginia could reap 37.5 percent of royalties for state spending, with another 12.5 percent going to Virginia conservation, transportation and renewable energy projects.
An even more frustrating aspect of Obama’s “permanent ban” is it flies in the face of wide bi-partisan support. Pro-exploration legislation was trumpeted in Washington by senators — Warner, Kaine and Webb, all Democrats. Governor McAuliffe has weighed in favorably. It was only when Senator Kaine was named to the Democratic ticket that he took a position against, a move that looks an awful lot like the triumph of politics over policy.
So let’s talk policy. First, it should be noted that drilling, even if green-lighted today, would not result in actual exploration for about 10 years, if not longer. Exhaustive geological, oceanic and environmental studies would have to be conducted first to determine what resources are available and the best means to reasonably and responsibly extract them. This not only means there is ample time for state officials, localities and citizens to weigh-in, as Senator Warner pointed out in his comments in support of exploration, but that the technology we use will be far more advanced, and safer, than what’s in place today in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico.
For decades safety and environmental concerns have driven much of the opposition to coastal energy exploration, but safety has increased markedly in just the last five years alone. As reported in The Hill, the Center for Offshore Safety monitored more than 100 new federal safety guidelines and found that in 2013 there was not a single loss of life or loss of well control after more than 42 million work hours on Gulf rigs. This is an exceptional track record of improved safety.
Policy, in the end, must stand up to the calculus of risk vs. reward — cost vs. benefit. But while exploration off our coast is currently banned, we actually have no earthly idea what we are banning. The last survey in the Atlantic showed 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Advances in technology will surely show more, as in North Dakota where discovered reserves skyrocketed by 2,500 percent. Even a modest tripling of found resources in the Atlantic will make our area a major energy provider, with an economic boom that will diversify our economy, spark widespread economic investment and create thousands of high-paying permanent jobs.
But alas, the last administration didn’t even allow permits to survey the area, so we don’t even know what we are saying “no” to. How shortsighted. To even determine whether drilling is beneficial for our state and region, the Trump administration should prioritize undoing Obama’s shelving of Atlantic energy exploration so we can make an intelligent, informed decision on whether Virginia can reap future benefits.
David Ramadan | Ramadan is a former Republican member of the House of Delegates from Loudoun County. He is now an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University. He can be reachedat firstname.lastname@example.org