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Activists act to protect Va. coasts from offshore drilling

Climate and environmental advocates call for clean energy

5/20/2013, 2:14 p.m.

VIRGINIA BEACH-  Virginians from across the commonwealth participated in the 4th annual Hands Across the Sand Saturday by forming a human line in the sand along the Virginia Beach oceanfront to protest offshore drilling and support clean energy. The international event started in 2010 as a response to the BP Gulf oil disaster, a record-setting oil spill that sent millions of gallons of oil gushing into coastal waters, devastatingly impacting thousands of marine species, human health, and vital coastal industries.

"As we saw with the Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries. In Virginia, that means risking over $2.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs in industries that depend on healthy ocean and Chesapeake Bay waters and clean beaches," said Eileen Levandoski with the Sierra Club. "It's a risk that remains real as large spills continue to occur around the world and as Congress has yet to pass a single law strengthening federal oversight of offshore oil and gas development."

In Virginia, the event marks four years of sustained local activism against offshore oil and gas drilling. Recently, opposition has focused on calling on Virginia’s members of Congress to oppose drilling and preventing seismic airgun blasting, which would take Virginia one step closer to the risks of offshore drilling and harm thousands of marine animals.

“Any step toward offshore oil drilling is a step toward flooding our coastline with rising seas and more extreme weather caused by climate change,” said Keith Thirion, Virginia Field Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Coastal residents already face waters lapping at their front doors. Virginia needs to move toward clean energy like offshore wind power, not more fossil fuels.”

Beachgoers and families joined the line in the sand in recognition of the threat drilling poses to treasured natural resources. Thousands of Virginians and tourists across the region enjoy Virginia’s beaches every year.

"As proponents and partners of numerous local outdoor recreation organizations, Surfrider Foundation knows that Hampton Roads residents’ active lifestyles are dependent on a clean and healthy coastal environment, which would be threatened by offshore drilling. That’s why we’re opposed to all steps toward new offshore drilling," said Jared Strawderman, Volunteer Coordinator of Surfrider Foundation - Virginia Beach Chapter.

Seismic airgun testing alone would have disastrous impacts on ocean species. “According to the government, seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic will injure or possibly kill 138,500 dolphins and whales, including nine critically endangered species including the North Atlantic right whales, of which only 500 individuals remain. We need President Obama to stop Atlantic seismic airgun testing and prevent offshore drilling from becoming a tragic reality in Virginia,” said Matt Huelsenbeck, Marine Scientist at Oceana.

In 2010 President Obama’s administration instituted a moratorium on drilling leases off Virginia’s coasts until 2017, yet the same order allowed for seismic testing. Today’s event and four years of vocal opposition show that support for offshore drilling and any step to approve it is out of step with coastal residents and Virginians across the commonwealth.