Virginia senators push for offshore drilling

By Phaedra Friend Troy

US Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) have introduced legislation to allow the exploration and development of oil and natural gas offshore Virginia.

The Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2011 expands the exploration area of the mid-Atlantic to incorporate more of Virginia's coastal resources. Additionally, the legislation stipulates that half of leasing revenues be paid to Virginia.

“We must pursue robust policies that include the expansion of our domestic energy resources in a safe and secure manner even as we develop conservation, renewable and efficient energy measures,” said Senator Webb. “Opening up and expanding Virginia’s offshore resources to responsible natural gas and oil exploration holds significant promise for boosting needed domestic energy production, while bolstering the Commonwealth’s economy.”

The Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2011 calls on the Department of the Interior to include Lease Sale 220 in the 2012-2017 five-year oil and gas lease plan.

The House-backed bill also stipulates that Virginia earn 50 percent of the royalty payments, with 37.5 percent going to the Commonwealth of Virginia and 12.5 percent going toward land and water conservation efforts, public transportation projects, and alternative energy development projects in Virginia.

“Our economy and national security will be strengthened by an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy, including the expanded production of our own domestic energy resources. We should not be sending hundreds of billions of dollars each year to oil-producing countries that do not like us,” Senator Warner said.

In 2009, the US imported $188 billion in petroleum-related products when oil prices were an average of $57 a barrel. Then in 2010, the US imported about the same amount of oil, but the price tag was $252 billion because the price per barrel had risen to $75. The US is expected to import nearly 10 million barrels of crude oil a day in 2011, according to the EIA, and the price of oil is near $100 a barrel now.

Virginia has been eager to open up its waters to oil and gas exploration for some time. In 2008, Senator Webb and then-Senator John Warner (R-VA) sponsored similar legislation to allow oil and gas exploration to occur on Virginia's Outer Continental Shelf with revenue-sharing provisions. Then in 2010, Senators Webb and Mark Warner sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar demanding that Virginia's Lease Sale 220 remain on schedule.

The proposed legislation can be found here: Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2011.

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