Mock oil spill protest at Capital turns into celebration as offshore drilling nixed

Posted at 5:50 PM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-15 18:02:32-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hazmat suits and a fake, oil-soaked beach were the props for a Tuesday protest that turned into a celebration.

Protesters had planned to gather Tuesday for a mock oil spill demonstration at the Capital Bell Tower, ahead of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s release of the final proposed plan for Atlantic drilling.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups said they were going to demonstrate the possible impacts of offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

"There has been a tremendous opposition to offshore drilling up and down the Atlantic Coast, from the tourism industry, from fisherman,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter Director, Sierra Club. “As a result of that, the Obama Administration, I think, heard the pleas.”

On Tuesday, the Obama Administration announced offshore oil drilling off Virginia’s coast is not happening for now.

Concerns from environmental groups, coastal industries, and even the Navy helped to influence the position reversal.

Political reaction is mixed, Va. Governor Terry McAuliffe and state senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner support offshore oil exploration. They have all supported the action, saying it could mean thousands of new jobs.

"The Atlantic would be important in stabilizing and giving us the option to stabilize our economy into the future,” said Miles Morin, with Virginia Petroleum Council.

The oil industry sees this as a missed opportunity that could hit consumers at the gas pump in the future.

Analysts said the estimates that more than three billion barrels of crude sits off the coast could actually be conservative.

"The current estimates of oil gas and reserves in the Atlantic are based on seismic survey data from the 1980s,” Morin explained.

But retired professor Walter Coppedge said he's willing to pay a little more at the pump if it means a cleaner environment.

"Look the planet is in crisis,” Coppedge said. “Why shouldn't everyone want that [a cleaner evironment]!?"