What may have seemed like easy money -- environmentalists’ objections notwithstanding -- no longer seems like a safe bet for some politicians who support drilling for oil and natural gas off Virginia’s coastline.
Several Virginia politicians, while not withdrawing their support for the plan to drill in waters 50 miles off Virginia’s coast, are beginning to qualify their comments.
The April 20 explosion and fire at the Deepwater Horizon exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. The uncapped well is now spewing thousands of barrels of oil per day into the Gulf. The crude oil is threatening the economic and environmental health of communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
President Barack Obama, who announced the drilling plan for Virginia in March, now says no expansion of offshore drilling will take place until federal investigations into the Louisiana plan are complete.
Virginia’s senators are both Democrats who favor drilling, but they say they agree with the President -- drilling should be delayed for now. Through a spokesman, Sen. Mark Warner said it was “appropriate” for Obama to delay offshore projects until safeguards are in place to prevent rig explosions like the one that caused the Gulf spill, the Washington Post reported.
Sen. James Webb’s spokeswoman told the Post that Webb believes, "the facts must be ascertained to determine how the disaster off the Gulf Coast could have been prevented" before drilling takes place.
State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) sponsored one of the bills Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed to allow drilling off the Commonwealth’s coast.
Wagner said he still favors drilling, but the Gulf spill has given him pause.
"I want to find out what happened. There are 1,400 wells off the coast of Louisiana, and this is the first time it has happened. We have to do something to fix it,” Wagner told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Wagner added that once the cause is determined, domestic drilling should continue.
McDonnell isn’t signing on for any delays. He flew to Houston Monday to tout the benefits of off-shore drilling at an industry-supported conference. Before he left, he said he wants to see a full investigation into the Louisiana accident, but he still thinks drilling could begin off Virginia’s coast as soon as next year or early 2012, the Post reported.
"What we do as Americans is we find out what went wrong and how can we do things better," McDonnell told the Post. "I think that's the spirit of the American people."
McDonnell campaigned last year on paying for road improvements in part with royalties from oil and gas drilling.
A Republican colleague on the other side of the country had a different reaction.
California has a $20 billion budget deficit. Obama’s plan did not include drilling off the California coast, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed shrinking his budget gap with the help of expanded oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. He has now changed his mind.
"If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I'd rather find a way to make up that $100 million," he said at a news conference near Sacramento Monday.
"You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, 'Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'"