Obama cancels offshore drilling in Virginia

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President Barack Obama has canceled plans that would have allowed drilling for oil and natural gas off of Virginia’s coast.

The announcement came as Obama, faced with increasing scrutiny over BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, placed a six-month ban on new deepwater oil wells. In addition to the cancelation of the lease sale in Virginia, Obama canceled plans for exploratory drilling and lease sales off Alaska’s coast.

Obama announced about two months ago he was opening up exploratory offshore drilling in Virginia. The move was an important initiative of many Virginia officials, including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, saying Virginia would benefit from thousands of jobs.

McDonnell had planned to dedicate Virginia’s portion of offshore revenues (although had not yet had been determined) to transportation (80 percent) and energy research (20 percent).

The announcement, however, faced criticism from environmentalists and the Department of Defense, which said much of the planned area for drilling would interfere with military activities.

McDonnell said in a statement Thursday that a full investigation of the the Deepwater Horizon explosion should lead to improvements in safety for offshore energy production in the U.S., but should not cancel all future production.

“While I respect [Obama’s] decision, and the need for delay and investigation, I do not believe outright cancellation was the only alternative given the fact that this sale was not due to occur until two years from now, and actual drilling would likely take place years after that,” McDonnell said in a statement.

McDonnell reiterated his desire for increased energy independence. “Just as Americans did not quit or retreat from innovation after tragedies in space exploration, so must we learn, change and persevere in advancing energy independence by using all our natural resources,” McDonnell said.

Virginia politiciansweigh in:

Sen. Mark Warner:

“We don’t want to see any new areas drilled until after we’ve had a full investigation and know exactly what happened in the Gulf of Mexico.  This disaster has revealed problems at the Minerals Management Service that we need to sort-through and correct. It also raises questions about what we should expect from the oil and gas industry, and the relationships between local, state, and federal government agencies in terms of both prevention and response.”

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-7:

“In March, President Obama came to the Commonwealth to announce his energy policy and endorse offshore energy exploration off our coast and I applauded him for that. But just months later, he has now reversed himself. We should continue to explore and develop energy off the coast of Virginia and I remain committed to ensuring that future offshore operations occur in a safe and environmentally responsible way. A comprehensive energy policy and the responsible production of American made energy has the potential to create thousands of new jobs, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and ensure our national security. In times of crisis, we need steady leadership – not knee jerk reactions – and I hope the Administration reconsiders this decision.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-8:

“Virginia had everything to lose and little to gain from Lease Sale 220. Aside from the obvious environmental concerns, the Defense Department was adamantly opposed to drilling in this area. Naval operations in Norfolk represent thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in economic activity. Our naval assets, including the ongoing battle to keep a major aircraft carrier from being relocated to Florida, far outweigh the illusory benefits from drilling.”

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