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Joe Bouchard: Offshore Oil Drilling Poses “unacceptable risk to naval forces in Hampton Roads”


I just got off a conference call on the dangers of offshore oil drilling in Virginia and lessons learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Speakers included Chesapeake Climate Action Network Executive Director Mike Tidwell, Virginia Sierra Club Assistant Director J.R. Tolbert, and retired Navy captain/former Delegate Joe Bouchard. I’ll get to Tolbert’s and Tidwell’s comments in a minute, but first I want to highlight what Joe Bouchard had to say, because it was very strong.

First, according to Bouchard, there’s a long record of offshore oil and gas activities interfering with Defense Department training ranges.  The industry likes to claim that they have a “great working relationship with the military,” but “you can’t believe that for a minute.” In fact, Bouchard says, “interference with training ranges is well documented,” and claims to the contrary by the oil industry are “disingenuous if not outright untrue.

Second, Bouchard points out that two Navy bases on the Gulf coast were closed in the 2005 BRAC round, one of the reasons being the inadequacy of the training ranges there because of interference from offshore oil and gas drilling activities. According to Bouchard, “that should stand as a very clear warning to those of us here in Virginia.” Bouchard adds that “DoD and the Navy have made it clear for years that they’re opposed to drilling in the Virginia Capes operating area.” The bottom line is that the Navy can’t live with oil drilling.

Third, as if all that’s not bad enough, Bouchard points out that oil spills definitely – and adversely – impact surface and underwater military training activities. This, in turn, has a direct, negative impact on operational and combat readiness of forces.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Bouchard reminds us, the Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in oil covering three of the four Navy training ranges – New Orleans, Pensacola, Panama City operation areas. As Bouchard notes, the Navy goes to great lengths to avoid oil spills, as ingesting oil into ship systems can ruin very expensive equipment.  Also, oil and 2,000-pound live ordnance “don’t mix very well.”

The bottom line, in Bouchard’s view, is that an oil spill off Virginia’s coast could cause “more damage than a terrorist attack on naval forces based in Hampton Roads.” To emphasize, Bouchard repeated that offshore oil drilling poses an “unacceptable risk to Naval forces in Hampton Roads,” and stressed that “NO decision on offshore oil drilling in Virginia should be made until full impact of oil spill on Navy is fully assessed.”  

Strong words from former Navy Captain Joe Bouchard. Now, on to J.R. Tolbert’s and Mike Tidwell’s comments on the environmental and economic impacts of offshore oil drilling.

Tidwell: The Gulf oil disaster resulted in more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled, plus at least 1.8 million gallons of Corexit as well.  The spill was very economically painful for Gulf states, the , use of dispersants at this scale has never been done before, and the long-term consequences are impossible to know. However, we do know that there have been huge economic impacts on the Gulf that are going to go on for quite a while.  Remember that in the Exxon Valdez spill 21 years ago, the herring fishery didn’t collapse for 3 years after the oil spill, and has never returned to commercially viable levels. So, the jury is still out on the long-term impacts of Gulf oil spill and there could still be more serious consequences.  

Also, according to Tidwell, the combustion of oil is contributing to global climate disruption.  We have experienced so much extreme weather in this region, including a very powerful storm this morning in Northern Virginia.  No, we can’t tie any one weather event to climate change, but all these events are compatible with global warming science. The combustion of oil contributes greatly to global warming, and also leads to ocean acidification.

The bottom line, in Tidwell’s view, is that all the evidence argues for a continued, permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in Virginia.  

Tolbert: Over 300,000 jobs are at risk in the Gulf region due to the oil disaster. To put this in perspective, that’s the number of people currently unemployed in Virginia. In addition, the oil spill has cost Gulf states $22.7 billion in tourism losses alone. Folks who depend on tourism industry are really feeling the pain. There have also been impacts here in Virginia, with the oyster industry having lost $11.6 million due to the Gulf spill.  

Keep in mind that this is all from just one oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. We can’t risk that off Virginia’s coast. Virginia tourism generates $19.2 billion annually. The value of the Chesapeake Bay for economic, tourism, commercial is over $31.6 billion per year. This is an enormous amount that would be placed at risk.  

Again, the bottom line is that we need a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in Virginia.  We also need a new vision for offshore energy, focused on wind power.


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