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Challenge offshore energy assumptions

By Bryan K. Stephens

In recent weeks, the issue of offshore energy exploration has been presented, both pro and con. Healthy debate raises awareness of an issue, and at its best serves to drive practical decisions that serve the common good.

Hampton Roads residents and businesses deserve due diligence on this important topic before moving forward.

There are pros and cons in any endeavor, just as there is risk. Offshore energy exploration is no exception. That’s why the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce supports further in-depth and careful study of offshore energy in Virginia.

While we are excited by the potential economic impact, it must be stressed we do not support exploration at the expense of the environment, the military or any other industry.

The first step is analysis and study. The 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Draft Proposed Program, released in January by the Obama administration, allows for that research.

It is important underscore that the DPP is a draft plan — no company is about to start drilling off our coastline in the near future, nor do we endorse that. The plan proposes for a thorough study and exploration of what oil or natural gas resources might lie beneath the Atlantic, not for the immediate start of drilling. In fact, the plan suggests lease sale toward the end of the DPP.

The plan enters an open public comment period this week and the Chamber plans to participate in the discussion. On Wednesday, I will join other local leaders for an open forum on what offshore energy might mean to Hampton Roads. We are inviting members of the public to share their thoughts, as well.

Because our region must have all the facts before agreeing to a major undertaking such as offshore drilling, the Chamber is going a step further. We will be spearheading an Inter-Regional Visit to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast this spring.

Business leaders, joined by elected officials and educators, will see firsthand what offshore drilling might offer our region. We will assess the opportunities, challenges and risks posed by offshore energy options and interact with subject matter experts from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana who are experiencing it firsthand.

We would be negligent if we didn’t fully explore our region’s potential to become the energy capital of the East Coast and a major player in gaining energy independence for our nation.

Since we don’t know what lies beneath the waves of the Atlantic and the potential it presents, we should challenge the assumptions and allow further research. Only then can we make informed decisions based on a risk/benefit analysis. Only then can we set a course that won’t negatively impact the environment or other industries.

Only then can we broker the deals necessary to ensure Virginia can enjoy the benefits offshore energy might provide to include regional economic diversification, new, high-paying jobs for our citizens and energy independence for generations to come.

Bryan K. Stephens is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 664-2535.