Virginia cannot risk the kind of economic calamity the Gulf Coast is experiencing as a result of the BP oil spill, the leaders of two environmental groups in the state said Thursday.
President Barack Obama suspended planned exploratory gas and oil drilling off Virginia's coast shortly after the April spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and J.R. Tolbert of the Virginia Sierra Club said that doesn't go far enough. They favor a permanent ban.
Tidwell and Tolbert were joined on a news teleconference by former Navy Capt. Joe Bouchard of Virginia Beach, who said drilling platforms off the state's coast also would interfere with military training exercises.
"The industry claims 'we have a great working relationship with the military and we don't interfere with their activities.' You can't believe that for a minute," said Bouchard, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
The push to make Virginia the first East Coast state to explore offshore oil and gas resources has been led by Gov. Bob McDonnell. That hasn't changed.
"The governor supports a comprehensive approach to Virginia's energy needs," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said in an e-mail Thursday. "He is a proponent of offshore energy exploration and development that is environmentally responsible and economically viable. That includes oil, natural gas and wind."
Tidwell and Tolbert touted wind as a viable alternative to drilling in the Atlantic. Tidwell said enough offshore wind could be harvested to power 3.6 million electric cars and 750,000 homes.
Tolbert said that beats risking an oil spill like the one in the Gulf, which he said has put 300,000 jobs in jeopardy and wrecked the region's tourism industry. BP PLC's Deepwater Horizon oil well spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf before it was successfully capped last month.
Bouchard said the spill reached three of the four Navy training areas in the Gulf, but exercises in two of those areas have been limited to aviation since the 2005 base realignment process. The spill did make a portion of the Panama City operations area unavailable for surface and underwater vessel exercises, he said.
"That should stand as a very clear warning to those of us here in Virginia," Bouchard said.
He said sailing through oil spills also can ruin expensive and sensitive equipment on Navy ships.