Eastern Shore ‘Too Special to Drill’? –Nope
By JAY FORD
Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper
February 16, 2015
As part of the Administration’s announcement of new leases for offshore drilling, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell continually stated, “Some places are too special to drill.” Apparently, Virginia and the Eastern Shore didn’t make the cut.
Virginia’s Eastern Shore is the largest remaining stretch of coastal wilderness on the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. Additionally, the Eastern Shore has been recognized by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve, and as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Network Site. There is no place on earth like Virginia’s Eastern Shore; the very definition of special.
Less than five years since the BP disaster overwhelmed the Gulf Coast, our leaders are ready to open our region to the same risks. Our culture, our economy, and our quality of life are inextricably linked to the waters of the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay. Our booming aquaculture industry, fisheries, and tourism all depend on clean waters and are susceptible to the slightest changes. Even if we never had a major spill we would have tarballs on our beaches, and drilling fluid, toxic metals, and metal shavings in our ocean as part of the standard operating practice for an offshore rig.
If a spill were to occur, our very way of life on Virginia’s Eastern Shore would be forever altered. Researchers on the Gulf Coast are still trying to quantify the long term damage done to that region’s ecology as a result of oil and the subsequent dispersants. Mutations, deformed hearts, lesions, and sterility have been documented in staggering numbers throughout the fish population. Corals were wiped out, taking with them millenniums old ecosystems. Shrimp with no eyes and/or eye sockets were reported. Petroleum products and oil dispersant has been found in the shells of blue crab larvae and pelican eggs. When asked to put a dollar figure on the ecological damage many researchers had but one answer: “Priceless.”
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What would the cost to us be? Coastal Virginia’s tourism economy brings in close to $5 billion annually. Our growing aquaculture industry on the Eastern Shore brings in an estimated $55 million per year. In Northampton County alone, with a little over 11,000 people, 987 jobs are tied to aquaculture or commercial fishing. This income and these jobs would evaporate overnight should oil wash upon our shores. Let’s also not forget NASA and the Navy, both of whom have previously raised serious doubts about their ability to work off our coast with the introduction of oil rigs.
With over 1,300 miles of coastline, Virginia’s Eastern Shore is by far the community which stands to lose the most should we see a repeat of the BP disaster in our waters. Even more disturbing is that we are the community likely to gain the least as well.
Currently, zero dollars in oil revenue would come to the Commonwealth from drilling off our coasts. Any revenue sharing would require convincing the rest of the country to let us keep profits from federal waters — a prospect that is in no way guaranteed. Even if our elected leaders managed to successfully work out some kind of revenue share for Virginia, the Eastern Shore would still carry a disproportionate amount of risk. Given our small population and two person state house contingent, any oil money is not likely to flow into our community.
We here on the Eastern Shore need to ask ourselves how can we reconcile the multitude of risks inherent in drilling off our coast with the slim chance of some money trickling down from Washington, to Richmond, and to our home? The answer is we can’t.
We need to tell our Governor and our President, “No thanks.” We agree with you that some places are just too special to drill and Virginia’s Eastern Shore is one of them.
Jay Ford is Executive Director and Shorekeeper for Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, protecting and enhancing over 1,300 miles of Virginia’s Coastlines. Together with his wife he owns and operates Shine and Rise Farm in Accomack County, where they reside along with baby daughter Winter.