Obama may allow oil drilling off Va. coast

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Local,Virginia,David Sherfinski
President Obama on Saturday said he would expand domestic oil production and speed evaluation of oil and gas resources along the Atlantic coast -- an issue that has been near and dear to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell since his 2009 campaign.

The direct effect of Obama's new plan on Virginia is unclear. But the state was first in line to take advantage of the president's decision last year to open up large swaths of the eastern seaboard to oil and natural gas drilling before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last April derailed that initiative. Obama instituted a moratorium on off-shore drilling following that oil spill.

McDonnell has made oil and natural gas exploration off the coast of Virginia a key part of his broader plan to make Virginia the "energy capital of the East Coast" -- recently touting offshore energy outside of a Richmond-area gas station.

A nearly 3 million acre swath of ocean floor 50 miles off Virginia's southeastern coast could yield 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to Interior Department estimates.

Environmentalists, though, point out that output would translate to a six-day supply of oil and an 18-day supply of natural gas.

Obama, outlining his plan in his national radio address, directed the Interior Department to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, moved to give companies more time to meet higher safety standards on exploration and drilling, and called for an end to $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies for the oil industry.

"We applaud [the president's] actions," said George Burke, a spokesman for Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. "He's assuring that safeguards are in place to protect economic interests, national security interests, and environmental interests while working to increase domestic oil and gas production."

Skyrocketing gas prices sparked yet another partisan rift on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, with Republicans pushing for more oil and gas exploration and Democrats calling for an end to the tax breaks as potential remedies.

dsherfinski@washingtonexaminer.com

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