Senate panel rejects ban on offshore oil drilling

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By Serena Fischer/ Capital News Service

A bipartisan bill to ban oil drilling off Virginia’s coast was shot down on a 9-6 vote in a Senate committee Thursday.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources killed SB 1573, which sought to prohibit permits for oil and gas exploration or drilling “in the beds of any waters of the commonwealth.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, also would have repealed a section of the Code of Virginia that supports federal efforts for natural gas exploration up to 50 miles offshore. Current law allows for the authorization of oil and gas leases on state-owned bottomlands (subaqueous lands within three miles of the shore).

“We rely on having clean beaches,” DeSteph said.

The bill was co-sponsored by two Democrats — Sens. Monty Mason of Williamsburg and Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake.

DeSteph and several speakers, including small-business owners and environmental lobbyists, said offshore drilling impacts more than just Virginia’s wildlife. They said Virginia Beach’s two biggest industries, tourism and the military, could be threatened by pollution and unsightly oil rigs.

Virginia Beach hotel owner Diana Burke said offshore drilling could hurt her business.

Groups such as the Virginia Petroleum Council and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce voiced opposition to DeSteph’s bill.

A spokesperson for the petroleum group called the legislation “immature” and suggested that state officials “wait until more information can be gathered.”

How they voted: 

Passed by indefinitely in Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources (8-Y 7-N)

YEAS — Stuart, Hanger, Ruff, Obenshain, Stanley, Black, Chafin, Suetterlein — 8.

NAYS — Petersen, Marsden, Ebbin, Lewis, Dance, Mason, McClellan — 7.