Nye: Time for Virginia to take part in the energy boom

Nye: Time for Virginia to take part in the energy boom

Jason Nye | Nye is senior vice president for Statoil and serves on the National Ocean Industries Association's board of directors. He is a 1983 graduate of Northside High and native of Roanoke. | Posted: Monday, February 3, 2014 3:15 am

I grew up in Roanoke, but as a professional in the offshore energy industry, I work in Houston. I live in Texas in large part because much of the Gulf of Mexico is open for energy production. But that's not the same story for Virginia, because the federal government is blocking oil and natural gas production off the commonwealth's coast.

It's too bad, because according to a new study by the American Petroleum Institute and the National Ocean Industries Association, opening up access off Virginia's coast could generate thousands of new jobs and contribute $1.9 billion in cumulative revenue to the commonwealth's economy by 2035.

With the boom in domestic energy production over the past decade, Americans should be optimistic about our energy future. We are increasing our own supplies of energy, and quickly becoming a world leader in oil and natural gas production thanks to new exploration, drilling techniques and technologies. But while states like Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas are benefiting greatly from increased energy investment, others, particularly those along the Atlantic Coast, are missing out.

That doesn't have to be the case. As the new study, conducted by Quest Offshore Resources, shows, the commonwealth may have significant energy resources off its coast.

The study found that the Atlantic Coast has the potential to produce the equivalent of 1.3 million barrels of oil every day by 2035. Production at that level would contribute billions of dollars to Atlantic states' economies and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs all over the country. In Virginia alone, tapping offshore energy resources could produce nearly 25,000 new jobs by 2035, according to the study. Those jobs will not be limited to exploration and drilling opportunities at sea. Offshore energy production requires support on land, as well, from manufacturing and construction to professional engineering and scientific services. Virginia's strong marine background, bustling port facilities, and one of the largest dry docks in the United States would make it a center of onshore support activities for offshore oil and natural gas exploration and production.

Despite the potential benefits to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, the federal government continues to deny access to offshore oil and natural gas resources in most of the outer continental shelf. Today, just about 15 percent of the outer continental shelf is available for energy exploration and production.

The current outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing plan runs through June 2017 and does not include any lease sales off the Atlantic Coast despite the clear potential benefits to these states. And although energy companies believe in the oil and gas potential of the Atlantic Coast, we have no incentive to invest in exploration there when federal policy stops us from accessing any oil and natural gas resources we find.

Work on the 2017-22 outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing plan will begin this year. The federal government should include lease sales off the shores of Atlantic Coast states, including Virginia, in the next plan. By doing so, we could begin exploring in 2019 and tap into those energy resources as soon as 2026, allowing the Atlantic states, including Virginia, to benefit economically while helping sustain America's growing role as a global energy leader.

I think that my employer, Statoil, has demonstrated that the nation can have a strong and vital oil and gas industry that harmoniously coexists with other industries. In our home base of Norway, Statoil for more than 40 years has responsibly and safely explored and produced oil and gas from waters used for shipping, fishing and tourism. The same development can occur in Virginia.

And perhaps then I could return home as one of thousands of people who would flock to Virginia to take part in what would surely be the commonwealth's new energy boom.

National Ocean Industries Association
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