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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman January 28, 2010

McDonnell says Virginia first in line for Atlantic oil drilling

In the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, newly elected Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said his state had the chance to be the first on the Atlantic coast to drill offshore for oil and natural gas.

"Advances in technology can unleash more natural gas, nuclear, wind, coal, alternative energy that will lower your utility bills," McDonnell said Jan. 27, 2010, from the floor of Virginia's House of Delegates. "Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to become the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore."

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If drilling happens in the Atlantic, is Virginia first in line?

Drilling in the Atlantic -- like in the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- has been taboo until recently. The Minerals Management Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has not held a lease sale for oil or natural gas drilling in the Atlantic since 1983. No leases remain active.
The MMS, however, included 2.9 million acres off the shores of Virginia as part of its 2007-2012 gas and oil leasing program. But exploration was prohibited by both executive order and a congressional moratorium.

That changed in the summer of 2008. President George W. Bush lifted the executive order banning drilling, then Congress allowed the moratorium to expire.

In November of that year, the MMS initiated what it called a "multiyear" leasing process for the rights to drill off Virginia's coast. The area potentially open to drilling would start 50 miles offshore and sits north of the opening of the Chesapeake Bay, closest to Virginia's Eastern Shore counties on the Delmarva Peninsula. The MMS says the area may contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It's the only area in the Atlantic under consideration.

Why is McDonnell bringing this up?

He believes the Obama administration has done little to move the lease sale ahead. The MMS says it won't happen before 2011.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Dec. 23, 2009, McDonnell pressed for prompt action, saying drilling could create 2,578 new jobs over 10 years and $271 million in state and local taxes. Those figures, which McDonnell says were based on a 2005 report by the former president of Old Dominion University, subsequently have been questioned. But that's not what we're checking.

McDonnell said Virginia was ready to "be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore." Indeed, the nearly 3 million acres off the coast of Virginia is the only area in the Atlantic in the federal government's current five-year oil and gas leasing program. It also is the only area currently in the leasing process. It puts Virginia at the head of the class. And it makes McDonnell right. We rate his claim True.

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McDonnell says Virginia first in line for Atlantic oil drilling

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