Swimmers enjoy the Atlantic Ocean at Assateague Island National Seashore on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 2015. BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH

No drilling off Virginia's coast

Local elected officials speak out on offshore oil & gas development. John Koontz represents the Hartfield District on the Middlesex County, Georgia Board of Supervisors. Contact him at

Offshore oil drilling would be a job killer for my rural home county of Middlesex. But this isn’t news, so why talk about it now? Experts predict that the federal government will release the most time-sensitive piece of their grand oil and gas leasing program within the next month or two. This plan is known as the Proposed Program and it will trigger a 90-day public comment period, the last opportunity for Virginians to make enough noise about offshore drilling to actually stop it from happening.

Why should you join Virginia’s tourism, fisheries and business experts in opposing this new oil and gas program? Because it could threaten your job and Virginia’s entire economy. A 2018 economic analysis found that 86,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in state gross domestic product are at risk if Virginians open the door to offshore oil drilling. We have proof of the toll that drilling can take on jobs: experts estimate that losses from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster could total $8.7 billion, with job losses totaling 22,000 by 2020.

As a member of the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors, I have seen what happens when people disengage from local issues like this one; eventually, the people we elected forget that the decisions they’re making affect us the most. If we want to stop offshore drilling and preserve local jobs that depend on a healthy ocean, then we must speak up.

The first step we can take is to call U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st. Wittman still supports offshore drilling and his position has left me and many others feeling like our concerns have been dismissed. Wittman may have forgotten that the last time we spoke out against an offshore drilling program, the entire Atlantic coast was closed to leasing.

Recently Gov. Ralph Northam, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, Del. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex, state Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, and a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture joined us in Middlesex County to announce the award of millions of dollars worth of federal and state grants to support economic development in our community.

As our community comes together and supports new workforce housing, revitalization of the former St. Clare Walker Training Center into a brewpub and commissary, renovations of our public school administration offices and a self-guided nature trail, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the energy and dollars that would be wasted if an offshore disaster were to come awash on our shores.

We are developing more public beach access in response to those who help our community thrive: tourists, fisherman and waterman.

We have a significant amount of our tax base tied to waterfront property values that would be devastated by a spill, and seismic blasting damage alone would threaten the wildlife that draw so many sportsmen to our shores.

Our marinas, our prime industry, draw sailors from around the globe.

They repeatedly pick clean ports over polluted ones, and they love the cleanest river in the commonwealth, the Piankatank River.

Wittman, and other congressional supporters of seismic blasting and offshore drilling with rural communities among their constituency, simply cannot say that they represent us when they support exploitation of our primary ways of life. Often, we are underrepresented in Congress, but on this, we can’t remain quiet.

Our jobs, our health, our economy, our tourism, our coastal way of life are being put at risk, for a 29-day supply of oil and natural gas. The truth is that these resources are traded in global markets and yield no benefit to the coastal communities at risk.

Protecting Virginia’s coast from offshore drilling would be an incredible victory for Virginia communities and businesses, and we need Wittman to help us get there.

Perhaps he can look to oyster tributary protection legislation passing both houses in Maryland to see how a community rallies around protecting its natural resources. Wittman need look no farther than our own governor who is pressing congressional leadership to increase federal funding for our beloved, shared Chesapeake Bay.

How can Congress contemplate Chesapeake restoration while simultaneously contemplating its demise?

See Richmond Times Dispatch article . . .