RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Mixed reactions tonight after President Barack Obama announced he's doing away with a ban on oil drilling off most U.S. shores. The plan allows new oil drilling off Virginia's shoreline and considers expanding it to a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard.
The announcement marks a stunning flip-flop on a promise the president made during his campaign. But the decision was applauded on the steps of the Virginia capitol today, where Governor Bob McDonnell said offshore drilling will create thousands of jobs and bring in millions of dollars.
The sun was shining, but that's not entirely why Governor Bob McDonnell was calling it a great day for Virginia.
"Whatever we can find offshore, is that much less than we have to depend on Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and Russia," McDonnell said.
By 2011, or 2012 at the latest, the governor expects Virginia to be the first eastern state to explore for oil and natural gas 50 miles off the coast. The effort, he said, could generate thousands of jobs, and hundreds of millions in tax revenue. But environmentalists say it's not worth it.
"We don't believe the benefits outweigh the risks. Frankly, there's not a lot of oil out there relative to what we use, said Glen Besa, Director of the Sierra Club of Virginia.
The governor is convinced otherwise.
"I think it's vastly overstated to say that there's any significant risk to the environment based on the tremendous leaps in technology," McDonnell said.
So, critics are adding another argument.
"Governor McDonnell is making an assumption that these revenues will be shared with the state, and at this point in time, there is no commitment that that's going to happen," Besa said.
While the president gave oil drilling the green light today, it's not over. Big oil companies will have to bid for the right to build platforms. And Congress must still work out a deal that determines how states –Virginia and potentially others- get paid.
"I expect the royalty issue and the revenue sharing issue to be a tough fight in the Congress," McDonnell said.
The EPA and the Navy -among others- must also sign off the plans, all of which remain a work in progress.
If drilling does take place one day, the governor said the profits would help pay for Virginia's transportation needs. Critics say when you consider how long it takes to build platforms and then discover oil; the huge financial windfall may not be realized for a decade.