Delay, but don’t end, drilling

Published 9:49 am Saturday, May 29, 2010

The environmental disaster still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is unprecedented and devastating.

The full attention of the federal government, as well as state and local governments and the private sector companies involved, should appropriately be focused on permanently capping this leak and cleaning up the oil that has been spilled. The images from Louisiana and around the Gulf are stunning, and it will take significant time and resources to fully recover from this tragedy.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is prepared to assist in those efforts, should our services be required or useful. I have previously called Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to inform him of our willingness to help. He is doing excellent work in leading his state’s response.

Similarly, it will take significant time to fully investigate and evaluate what took place at the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 and in the ensuing weeks. This accident must lead to necessary improvements in offshore exploration and drilling technology and safety — and the implementation of new safeguards and regulations moving forward.

This process will make it difficult to move forward with the lease sale currently scheduled off the coast of Virginia in 2012. Thus, I understand the decision that President Barack Obama made Thursday.

While I respect his 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. The two-year environmental impact statement already under way would provide ample information about the wisdom of proceeding on to an actual lease sale.

It is my hope that the president’s action does not signal the end of offshore energy exploration and production off Virginia in the years ahead. Once we have learned the lessons from this tragic accident — and made the necessary changes and improvements in the offshore industry and government oversight — we should move forward with environmentally responsible domestic offshore energy production for oil and natural gas.

This nation needs more domestic energy production. If we decrease the amount of energy produced here in the United States, we will only increase the amount of energy we must import from overseas. We must have the foresight and objectivity to not let this tragic accident cripple our ability to increase energy production in the United States. That would be a tragedy in its own right.

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. The spirit of American progress is to overcome adversity and conquer obstacles, not quit and accept failure.

Our nation needs domestic energy production and the jobs and security that come with it. I am a strong proponent of a comprehensive energy policy for Virginia and America. We should greatly increase our domestic production and utilization of all energy sources. That includes offshore and onshore wind, coal, solar, nuclear, biofuels, waste to energy, natural gas and, with the appropriate improvements in the industry incorporated moving forward, offshore oil and gas.

I have great confidence in American ingenuity, intelligence and innovation, and our ability to properly and reasonably move forward following this major setback.