Williamsburg’s Mayor and City Council have voiced their opposition to offshore drilling on Virginia’s coastline.
Mayor Paul Freiling penned a letter to Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, to oppose drilling for oil in the Mid-Atlantic. The letter, dated March 1, 2018, was signed off on by fellow councilors Barbara Ramsey, Doug Pons, Benming Zhang and Vice Mayor Scott Foster, according to City Communications Specialist Lee Ann Hartmann.
In January, Zinke announced more than 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf – or the federally-owned seabed that is beyond state borders – may be made available for oil and gas exploration. Currently, only 6 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf territory is available for such activities.
Zinke’s plan calls for offshore drilling at three sites in the Mid-Atlantic, which lie off the Virginia coast. He said the development of energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would boost the U.S. economy and energy security.
In his letter, Freiling wrote that the plan could impede the operations and training of the U.S. Navy based in Hampton Roads, and jeopardize the safety of Navy personnel.
“We know that we must protect our military bases from the ever-creeping encroachment of residential or commercial development and we are serious about this,” Freiling wrote.
The mayor added that both National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense use the Hampton Roads region for space, air and sea training, which could be impacted by offshore drilling as well.
Florida was granted exemption from offshore drilling because of the economic impact of the state’s coastline. Freiling asked Zinke to extend the same exemption to Virginia.
The full text of Freiling’s letter is included below:
The intention of this letter is to communicate the City of Williamsburg’s strong opposition to the inclusion of three proposed lease sites for the Mid-Atlantic region of the outer continental shelf in the 2019-2024 National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program. Virginia has had a long and storied relationship with our military dating back to the American Revolution. We cherish our active duty soldiers and sailors, as well as our veterans and retirees. We support all that they do, because they are our protectors. They are willing to sacrifice their own lives to ensure our freedoms. We do not do that just by waving flags or self-proclaiming our patriotism. We do it through our actions. We protect their opportunities to train so that they may do their jobs unencumbered. This is why we created the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. This is why we fund joint land use studies and back up their recommendations with actions. We know that we must protect our military bases from the ever-creeping encroachment of residential or commercial development and we are serious about this.
Why then would we just throw all of this work away? Why would we turn our backs on our traditions? Why would we allow some unknown corporate entity, likely from outside the Commonwealth of Virginia, to enter our precious coastal waters and establish threats to the effectiveness of our fighting forces? This is exactly what we have worked so hard to prevent on land, so how is it any different at sea? Why would we imperil the brave women and men of our Navy by limiting their areas of training, and especially at a time when we have seen the tragic results that come from sacrificing training to stretch our global presence? We would never do this as a state, and we should never allow this as a nation. It would be unconscionable and immoral to risk lives simply for profit.
Florida was immediately exempted from the threat of offshore drilling in order to preserve their tourism industry. If that is true, then that means the dollars from one source (tourism) are more valuable than the dollars from another (oil), but are either sources of revenue more cherished than even one military casualty? God help us if we have come to that point.
Additionally, please consider that the Atlantic region neighboring Virginia includes National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and United States Department of Defense (USDOD) warning areas used for space, air, and sea military operations including training. These Warning Areas include W122, W72, W387 and W386. These operational areas extend nearly 100 nautical miles from the coastal boundaries of Virginia and North Carolina. When responding to the Draft Proposed OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2010-2015 that included the same areas proposed in the current plan, the USDOD found “significant conflicts” and discouraged oil and gas activity in the majority of the sales area.
The 2019-2024 National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program includes three options for the Atlantic Region. The first option provides for three sale periods in 2020, 2022 and 2024 covering the entire Atlantic Planning Area. The second option excludes the known Atlantic Canyons from the sale. The final option proposes to exclude a coastal buffer of 25 nautical miles from the sale. The plan states that Option 3 is designed to “accommodate concerns such as military use”. This approach falls far short of an accommodation if the operational area of NASA and USDOD is 100 nautical miles from the coastal land boundary. Again, I offer a better option. Let’s not allow offshore drilling near Virginia [sic]
Paul T. Freiling
Mayor, City of Williamsburg
(Port City Daily, Southside Daily and WYDaily archives were used in this story.)
Correction: As first published, the headline for this story spelled Mayor Freiling’s name incorrectly.
Editor’s Note: Based on information from the city’s communications specialist, this story originally said city councilors Barbara Ramsey, Doug Pons, Benming Zhang and Vice Mayor Scott Foster signed the letter, but after publication WYDaily learned the other councilors signed off on the letter. The story has been revised accordingly.