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What if it happened here?

The images are disturbing. The response has been frustrating. The environmental impact is horrifying and the impact on the economy is devastating.

Over the past 40-plus days, oil from the destroyed BP Deepwater Horizon well has flooded into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a disaster like none our country has ever seen and setting off a response that we all wish was much more rapid and much more effective.

Since fire ripped through the oil well, killing 11 and sending dozens more scrambling for lifeboats and jumping into the water, oil has flowed freely from the shattered drill shaft and has now begun to cover Gulf beaches and delicate marshes along the Louisiana and Mississippi shoreline.

As we pray for the quick recovery and cleanup of the Gulf Coast, we also must take a moment to wonder “what if?”

What would happen if such a disaster happened along Virginia’s Atlantic coast? What would our response be? Do we have the equipment and crews in place to battle such a spill?

What if?

During the gubernatorial campaign, then candidate Bob McDonnell said he wanted to use revenues from oil drilling leases off the Virginian coast to help fund much-needed transportation projects. We supported such a plan.

Just a few months ago President Barack Obama announced plans to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. We applauded that decision.

Now, with portions of our country covered in oil and proof that our nation’s ability to respond to such a disaster is clearly lacking, we no longer support immediate drilling, but rather immediate reflection.

Until government regulators can demand from oil companies better safety equipment and we can demand better oversight and response by our governmental agencies, then we should not allow drilling. Until oil companies can prove they have invested in the development of better shut-offs and safety equipment, then they should not be allowed to drill in our waters.

This disaster may shatter the economy of a region and bankrupt an international company, but we should not let the lessons from such an event pass. If we do, then we may wake up one day with a similar situation here in Hampton Roads.