As his own state creeps toward allowing drilling off its shores, Sen. Frank Wagner (R-VA) called the nation's energy woes a "winning issue" for politicians seeking to curry favor with voters.
"I think...that the political party that goes out and captures a workable [energy] plan... is going to prosper in the next election.
"It's an issue that we've really got to push," Wagner told reporters at a press briefing during the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston Monday. "I sense an opportunity, like I haven't seen before, with the current crisis. I just hope that Washington doesn't apply a Band-Aid to this but takes a look at a long-term, comprehensive plan and builds a strategy that's going to make American energy independence an achievable dream."
Last month Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, took a neutral stance on legislation that could open Virginia's waters to energy development (see NGI, April 10). Both drilling proponents and environmentalists claimed victory. Wagner said he is encouraged by progress made in Virginia and expects it will encourage similar activity in other states.
"I do know that since we stepped out in Virginia there has been a lot more discussion in certain states," Wagner said Monday. "There is a lot more discussion, a lot more resolutions in different state houses."
Wagner, whose district takes in half of the City of Virginia Beach, said polling in his district indicates overwhelming support of offshore drilling. He claims about 75% of his district supports offshore drilling, and another 12% with no opinion could be swayed. "When we did those polls... gas[oline] was $2.20. Imagine if we did those polls today; it would be up over 80% plus. I've seen the public sentiment rise and fall with what they're paying at the gas pump."
Wagner isn't just focused on expanding offshore drilling. He noted that the march toward energy independence requires effort on all fronts, including conservation. "There are a lot of other things we should be doing in this country in terms of nuclear, in terms of coal... and conservation; I don't mean to belittle that."
Wagner shared a dais with Chuck Davidson, CEO of Noble Energy and chairman of the offshore committee of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), and Fred Lawrence, IPAA vice president of economics and international affairs. The three remarked on the need to better educate the public about the true impacts of offshore drilling.
Out of 4,000 offshore platforms installed, hurricanes last year destroyed or damaged 165, Davidson pointed out. There were no fatalities among offshore workers and no significant spills from offshore wells, he said. And offshore facilities and pipelines account for only 2% of oil spilled in U.S. waters.
Wagner criticized the environmental permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for failing to consider the consequence of the failure to permit energy infrastructure. For instance, when a coal-fired power plant project fails to get environmental approval, how many people turn to burning wood at home to counter high energy prices, he asked.
"What puts less stuff in the atmosphere, one well-regulated coal-fired power plant or 100,000 chimneys burning God knows what?" Wagner said. "We don't ask those questions, and that, quite frankly, is the fault of the permitting process."
Additionally, Wagner pointed out that developing domestic energy infrastructure, e.g. offshore platforms and pipelines, poses less risk of environmental catastrophe than relying on oil tankers to bring an increasing amount of imported oil to the United States.
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