I recently spent a week in (mostly) coastal Virginia, working alongside four Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center fellows to make sure the voices of Virginians opposed to offshore drilling could be heard, loud and clear.
While a trip to the beach is always beautiful, this time its beauty for me was laced with worry; in January, the Trump Administration released a plan that could spell disaster for our oceans and the Chesapeake Bay. By opening 90 percent of U.S. federal waters to offshore drilling, including almost all of the Atlantic, the proposal could lead to oil spills off our coast, poisoning our waters and killing our wildlife.
We know the damage that can be caused by oil drilling and the seismic surveys that precede it–anyone watching the coverage of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill can remember the photos of turtles and birds doused in oil, and the harrowing stories of fishing families losing their livelihoods. Many of the impacts lingered for years. Damaged ecosystems and economies in the Gulf are the terrible proof that when we drill, we spill.
That’s why, when the Administration released a plan to hold nine oil & gas lease sales in the Atlantic, we at Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center knew we had to push back. A spill off the Atlantic coast could devastate the entire coastline, including the Chesapeake Bay, endangering our wetlands, beaches and our coastal wildlife, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.
In light of these risks, it’s unsurprising that drilling off our coasts is unpopular, both here in Virginia and in most coastal states. That’s why, back on February 21, Virginians showed up in Richmond to protest the expansion of drilling of our shores. And that’s why the work we did over the past few weeks in Virginia Beach is so vital.
While in Virginia Beach, we met Mike, a Virginia Beach native who has spent his whole life spearfishing and surfing. Mike opposes offshore drilling because he is afraid of the damage it would do to Virginia’s changing coastline. Already, Mike and his family have noticed that spearfishing in the waters near Virginia Beach has grown more difficult, as climate change and development have impacted the ecosystem–and an oil spill would make these activities impossible. For people like Mike, protecting our coastline from offshore drilling is about maintaining the health of our shores, and our way of life on the coast.
Of course, Mike wasn’t alone: we collected 847 petition signatures and letters from 53 small businesses calling on our state leaders to stand up against expanded offshore drilling and for our oceans and beaches. By putting the voices of Virginians opposed to the plan center stage, we will remind the Administration that, even in the lull between comment periods and administrative action, Virginians remain resolute: we don’t want to risk our coast for a few drops of oil.
Speaking out is even more important for our Members of Congress. Right now, they can weigh in with the Administration and insist it listen to the thousands of Virginians who are opposed to drilling off our coasts. And armed with the petitions and small business sign-ons we collected over the past days, we hope our leaders do just that. Hearing from Virginia’s elected leaders will make it more likely the Trump Administration abandons its plans to open the Atlantic to drilling–or scrap the thing in its entirety.
Virginians know what we risk if we open our oceans to oil & gas drilling–and that’s why they are joining me in telling our leaders to protect our coast.
State Director, Environment Virginia
A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.