Offshore resources are worthy of exploration

This past week, the public radio program “Science Friday” celebrated Cephalopod Week at its website. The humble, creepy and often mysterious Kraken has long been an object of amazement and a favorite of folklore.

Every time I tune in to the program, I seem to hear something amazing about our oceans. It may be the fact that water really is blue, not clear, to a fish that has evolved to emit bioluminescence of a different hue from its prey allowing it to be a better predator. Or it could be learning about giant jellyfish and sea cucumbers. I find myself in wonder about all we are still learning about the deep.

It also helps that June is “Oceans Month,” during which the program is exploring the science of our blue planet’s oceans and those who are studying them.

It also would seem sacrilege if our beach’s community paper, serving everywhere from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center to Knotts Island, N.C., wouldn’t have a great affinity and respect for the beauty and splendor of our seas.

But the ocean, in addition to being beautiful, just like the rest of the earth, is also a resource. From commercial fishing to naval exercises, sand erosion and beach construction to energy production, conscientious, constructive and balanced decisions need to be made that not only protect and preserve the resource but also permit the free market – and the community – to thrive.

Yet, based solely on information from the early 1980’s, the dread of a disaster such as Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, and a sustained campaign from environmental activists has some Virginians refusing even the prospect of a conversation.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam joined several other Atlantic Coast governors in penning a letter to Congress about the Trump administration’s plan to move forward with coastal prospecting.

“Offshore drilling is a clear and present threat to Virginia’s economy, our military assets and our natural resources,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in a statement. “Instead of working to eliminate states’ authority to make our own decisions about our own coastlines, Congress and the Trump administration should work with us to develop the new energy technologies we need to fight climate change and make our country a leader in the global energy economy of the future.”

Clear and present threat? Says who? Northam’s political base? Even Deepwater Horizon was nearly a decade ago, and significant advances in safety and training have been made by the oil and natural gas industry.

Northam’s objections would be acceptable if a reasonable hearing of the benefits of offshore energy development were being considered. But we can’t even get to the point of knowing those benefits due to vociferous objections to merely conducting exploration. As I mentioned before, the data we’re basing our policy making comes from a time when the Atari and cassette tapes were state of the art.

Even former Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb realizes that knowing what is off the coast is critical to our making a reasonable judgment as to whether developing the industry here is worth the time. Webb has joined the Explore Offshore imitative of the American Petroleum Institute as its co-chair.

What we do know does point to a very positive – and prosperous – opportunity.

“After about five years of lease sales and ramping up activity, you got about $122 million of direct spending just in the Hampton Roads area … and that will rise to $1.3 billion in year 20,” said Miles Morin of the Virginia Petroleum Council during a recent interview. “There is a lot of concentrated benefits for the Hampton Roads area to the tune of $1.3 billion per year and maintaining and growing in year 20.”

There is a vast amount we don’t know about the oceans – including what prosperity lies beneath its surface. Just as we are exploring its natural wonders, with U.S. oil exports reaching a record high of 1.76 million barrels per day in April, we owe ourselves the opportunity to explore and learn more about our ocean’s resources before making a decision.

This column appears in The Princess Anne Independent News