Activists oppose drilling off Virginia’s coast

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — About 75 people, including activists and lawmakers, rallied Wednesday against the Trump administration’s plan to allow drilling off Virginia’s coast, saying it would endanger the environment, the economy and military readiness.

The group held a press conference before the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s public hearing in Richmond on the issue. At the meeting, environmental and business leaders urged the agency to abandon the plan.

“We are here today to protect our waters, the Virginia coast and Atlantic Ocean from dangerous oil and gas development,” said Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River Now in Virginia Beach. “We’re here to make our voices loud and clear that we do not think offshore drilling is good for Virginia.”

U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, said he was honored to speak alongside state officials, environmentalists and retired military and business leaders to express opposition to offshore drilling.

“The Trump administration’s decision to push for drilling in more than 90 percent of our nation’s coastal waters, including off the coast of our beautiful commonwealth, poses serious dangers to our economy and our environment,” McEachin said. “As we learned from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, accidents can be unimaginably destructive, devastating the marine environment and potentially affecting the health of local residents.”

McEachin said an oil spill would have disastrous consequences for communities along the coast and around the Chesapeake Bay. Coastal fisheries, tourism and recreation support 91,000 jobs in Virginia and represent almost $5 billion of the state’s economy, he said.

Even without a spill, oil exploration alone would be damaging, according to Susan Barco, the research coordinator and senior scientist at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach.

“One of the tools they use is seismic testing, and that would occur regardless of if there is a spill or drilling for that matter,” Barco said. “Seismic testing produces very, very loud sounds in the ocean in order to understand what is below the strata or layers at the bottom of the ocean. Those sounds are very likely to negatively impact a lot of animals, particularly marine mammals.”

McEachin said the U.S. Defense Department has twice concluded that drilling off Virginia’s coast would compromise the Navy’s ability to effectively operate and train and that this would effectively reduce military readiness and compromise national security.

Gov. Ralph Northam and members of Congress from Virginia’s coastal areas, both Republicans and Democrats, oppose the U.S. Interior Department’s offshore drilling plan. Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, a Republican, also opposes it.

Wednesday’s meeting at a hotel near Richmond International Airport was the only public hearing that the federal government plans to hold in Virginia to discuss the offshore drilling plan. That irked Northam.

“If the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management doesn’t hold additional hearings in the Tidewater region, I will be one of the few people from a Virginia coastal community who has had the opportunity to share my opposition to the administration’s plan to put our economy, environment, national security, and the health and safety of our residents at risk,” Northam said.

The Democratic governor said he will use every tool he can use to make sure no drilling happens off Virginia’s coast.

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