Chamber Hosts Offshore Energy Press Conference on February 11

Chamber Hosts Offshore Energy Press Conference on February 11
Chamber advocates study, regional approach

The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bryan K. Stephens led a press conference on offshore energy exploration to raise awareness among Virginians. A gathering of business, community, government and labor leaders were present representing the widespread support for offshore energy exploration. The gathering preceded an opportunity for public comment held by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Support for exploring offshore natural resources is broad and bi-partisan.  President Barack Obama’s Department of the Interior recently included Virginia in its draft plan for the next five-year offshore oil and natural gas leasing program from 2017-2022.  The numerous Virginia leaders who support offshore energy activity are adamant that the Commonwealth receive a share of royalties generated.

"The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce supports further in-depth and careful study of offshore energy in Virginia. And, while we are excited by the potential economic impact, it must be stressed we do not support exploration at the expense of the environment, the military or any other industry. We do support responsible exploration that at all times considers the safety of the environment, military operations and the impact on other industries, to include fishing and tourism."

- Bryan K. Stephens

“Since we represent the business community and the hard working men and women of Hampton Roads, it is important the Chamber provide a platform for Virginia’s leaders and the community at-large to voice their thoughts on this important initiative, said Bryan K. Stephens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. “The cross-section of those present today demonstrates how broad support is for offshore energy development off Virginia’s coast.”

“From the White House on down, elected officials of both parties endorse exploration of deep sea natural resources.  While there clearly seems to be growing support within the business community for this exciting new opportunity that could deliver new jobs, increase revenue to the Commonwealth and provide energy independence for generations to come, the business community of Hampton Roads prefers to get the facts right so we as a community can make informed decisions about the benefits and risks,” added Stephens, noting that the Chamber is leading an exploratory business mission to the Louisiana Gulf Coast this spring.

When deep sea energy resources are harvested here, it is estimated that Virginia would realize significant employment and economic benefits from offshore oil and natural gas development activities. By 2035, offshore energy harvesting is projected to yield roughly $1.8 billion in economic impact and 25,000 jobs. The current proposal anticipates that offshore energy harvesting would occur at least 50 miles beyond the shoreline along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the Interior Department, BOEM now manages about 6,000 active OCS leases, covering more than 32 million acres, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2013, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for roughly 18 percent of domestic oil production and 5 percent of domestic natural gas production. That generates billions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Additional backing for offshore energy development during the 2017-2022 lease program comes from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

“Virginia is well positioned to support offshore energy development with our historic maritime industry that includes marine engineering, ocean surveying, Newport News Shipbuilding, a deepwater port, and hundreds of naval contractors, construction, and service companies,” said Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Virginia elected leaders of both political parties are likewise supportive.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said the Interior Department draft plan “is a positive step toward responsible offshore energy development that will create jobs and economic activity, while helping our Commonwealth diversify its energy resources. I am committed to continuing to work with the Obama administration to tailor a plan that includes revenue sharing for states, and allows Virginia to unlock gas, oil, and wind assets offshore while protecting our environment and our close relationship with the Department of Defense.”

“Safely accessing Virginia’s vast offshore natural resources would be an economic catalyst supporting thousands of new jobs and yielding billions of dollars in benefit to the Commonwealth,” said Virginia House of Delegates’ Speaker William Howell (R) of Stafford County. “Many Virginians realize that kind of positive impact will ripple throughout our state, which is why offshore energy exploration enjoys widespread support among Republicans and Democrats. Harvesting offshore energy has such broad appeal because it would boost job creation, enhance energy independence, and strengthen national security. Virginia’s planned inclusion in the 2017-2022 offshore lease sale program is a welcome development we all should appreciate.”

Reacting to the Interior Department announcement last month, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) jointly called it a “significant step in a multi-year process that should result in the safe, responsible development of energy resources off the Virginia and mid-Atlantic coasts. This draft leasing plan from the Interior Department includes appropriate environmental reviews and opportunities for public hearings before any lease sales would occur. It does not, however, allow Virginia or other Atlantic coastal states to share in any of the revenue from energy resources developed offshore. We will continue to push for legislation to allow Virginia to have the same revenue-sharing system currently applied to Gulf Coast states.”

Like Senators Warner and Kaine, U.S. Representative Scott Rigell (R) of Virginia Beach is a champion for ensuring that Virginia benefits financially from offshore energy harvesting. All three congressional leaders have sponsored legislation with that goal.

“There is broad and bipartisan support for Virginia coastal energy,” said Rigell, noting that seismic testing and other analysis to update existing data about the vast underwater resources still must occur.

He remains concerned about a 50 mile coastal buffer he worries “will unnecessarily hinder the thoughtful and constructive harvesting of the available resources.”

“We can create 25,000 good-paying jobs for Virginians if we properly leverage our offshore resources. But the President’s restrictions complicate this path forward,” Rigell added. “In the days and weeks ahead, I will work with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Department of the Interior, to maximize our offshore energy potential. I stand with and am grateful to those who came out today to show their support for job creation and energy development here in Virginia.”

Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones (R), who is chairman of the House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee, sees coastal energy as a potential windfall for Virginia.

“The recent announcement that Virginia is on deck for offshore energy development in the near future is something to cheer,” said Jones. “I recognize that as a son of Hampton Roads and a local businessman in a community which would enjoy great bounty from offshore activity. I also know this as someone intimately involved in writing a state budget that is steadily being weaned off Washington dollars through sequestration cuts. The promise of offshore activity represents new economic lifeblood that comes not by raising taxes, but by tapping our existing energy resources. Clearing the way for offshore energy is an example of government working in the right direction for the betterment of citizens.”

Chesapeake Delegate Lionell Spruill (D) is excited about the prospect of new job creation from offshore energy development.

“If there’s one thing we all can agree on it’s the need to create more jobs with good wages. It is estimated that accessing deep sea energy resources would yield as many as 25,000 new jobs and generate significant new revenue for Virginia’s economy,” Spruill noted. “As a proud member of the labor community, I know that some of the technical jobs created due to offshore activity could mean work for some of our skilled brothers and sisters. Putting more Virginians to work and generating new state revenue by harvesting our own natural resources in a safe way just makes sense.”

More information on the BOEM preparation of environmental impact statement and the opportunity for commenting online may be found here. Comments should be submitted by March 30, 2015.

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