Virginia Lieutenant Governor pushes for offshore drilling

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By Peter Bacque

RICHMOND, VA — Offshore drilling for oil and gas could bring billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Virginia, and help secure the nation’s energy future, speakers at an industry-sponsored forum said Tuesday.

“More energy equals more jobs for Virginia,” Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said. “That should be priority No. 1 for everybody across the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Bolling spoke to about 20 people at an offshore oil and gas forum in Richmond sponsored by the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Southeast Energy Alliance.

The federal government is considering leasing areas in the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia coast for oil and gas development.

The lease sale would be held no earlier than 2011, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service. The potential lease area covers about 2.9 million acres, at least 50 miles offshore.

The Minerals Management Service estimates the area may contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Over a 10-year period, Bolling said, developing an offshore energy industry in Virginia could:

–create more than 25,000 jobs;

–spur nearly $8 billion worth of investment;

–yield $644 million in payroll; and

–produce $271 million in state and local taxes.

Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine backs only exploratory drilling for natural gas. By law, however, the federal government cannot restrict the development to natural gas alone.

“There’s no way the United States can drill its way out of our energy problems,” environmentalist Glen Besa of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter said in an interview yesterday.

“The longer we foster our dependence on oil,” Besa said, “the more we’ll be dependent on foreign sources, many of which are hostile to the United States.”

But, said David Holt, president of the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance, “there is no alternative energy solution that will meet the [nation’s energy] demand for the foreseeable future.”

“When you’ve got an oil industry,” Besa also argued, “you’re going to have oil spills.”

By reducing the need to ship the oil and gas in tankers and barges, a Virginia petroleum field would “actually reduce the threat to the environment,” state Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, told the forum.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

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