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VA Governor Mulls Bill Supporting Gas Drilling Off State's Coast

After clearing both houses of the legislature, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is reviewing legislation that conceivably would permit natural gas development 30 miles off of the state's coastline.

The bill (SB 262) creating a comprehensive energy bill that supports offshore gas drilling was passed by Virginia's House of Delegates last week, after clearing the Senate by 31-6 in mid-February.

"In general, he [Kaine] is pleased the legislation looked at energy in a more comprehensive way," said the governor's spokesman, Kevin Hall. However, with "an issue this complicated," he said it was likely that Kaine would make some amendments to the bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-VA). Hall said it was too early to speculate about the type of amendments that may be offered by the governor. Kaine has 30 days to review the legislation.

In 2005 Wagner proposed a more limited measure advocating offshore gas drilling. It also cleared both houses of the legislature, but was vetoed by former Virginia Gov, Mark Warner in the end (see Daily GPI, April 11, 2005).

Kaine "supports exploratory drilling offshore [Virginia] to see what's out there," Hall noted. "The governor has vowed support for that [exploratory drilling] as far as it goes." But whether this, in fact, takes place will hinge on action at the federal level, Hall said. The bill calls for Virginia's congressional delegation to seek an exemption from the federal moratorium on drilling off the East Coast.

One member of the Virginia congressional delegation, Republican Sen. John Warner, already has introduced legislation that seeks to encourage more gas leasing by giving the governors of energy-friendly states the opportunity to exit from the federal moratorium on drilling in certain parts of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) beginning in 2007.

In addition, the Interior Department's draft five-year (2007-2012) plan for leasing on the OCS, which was released in February, proposed exploring the potential for energy development off the coast of Virginia.

Once the state conducts exploratory drilling and knows "what's out there," then "we can have the larger debate on the environmental concerns" and other issues related to drilling off Virginia's coast, Hall told NGI.

Wagner's bill, which was introduced in the General Assembly in January, proposed greater access to the federal OCS for natural gas development, an exemption for Virginia from the moratoria on drilling off its coast, construction of more gas pipelines and the siting of one or more liquefied natural gas terminals in the state, as well as the creation of a research center at Old Dominion University to explore frozen methane-gas crystals. The bill also included a number of non-gas provisions, such as siting a new nuclear and wind facility in the state and promoting renewable energy development (see Daily GPI, Jan. 10).

Environmentalists have sharply attacked the measure for its focus on traditional, fossil-fuel energy sources.

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