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New York Times: A Long-Term Need for Oil Can Be Safely Met

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Washington, February 18, 2015 | comments
To view the Obama administration’s proposal to allow energy exploration off the Atlantic coast solely in light of the current price of oil is to miss the long-term strategic value of safely, and effectively, harnessing our domestic resources...
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To view the Obama administration’s proposal to allow energy exploration off the Atlantic coast solely in light of the current price of oil is to miss the long-term strategic value of safely, and effectively, harnessing our domestic resources.

Global energy demands are expected to rise in the future, making it all the more risky for the U.S. to depend on the unstable Middle East for a significant portion of its energy supply. At the same time, the administration is unlikely to sell a drilling lease before 2021, so we could be a decade away from actual production in the Atlantic.

But long-term forecasts and future uncertainties necessitate a thoughtful, all-inclusive approach to domestic energy policy.

The value of developing alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, certainly cannot be overstated, and we must increasingly harness these resources. However, we cannot ignore that fossil fuels — including natural gas, a significant supply of which is expected to be found in Virginia's offshore reserves — will remain the dominant source of energy for years to come. For the foreseeable future, our citizens and industries will rely largely on fossil fuels, and we must encourage responsible exploration and development of our domestic supplies in order to satisfy this need even as we cultivate alternative energy sources.  

I fully believe that this can be done safely. A biologist by training, I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life as a public health specialist dealing specifically with marine ecosystems. I understand that diverse natural habitats — plant, animal and human — depend on the health of the ecosystem off the Atlantic coast, and I care deeply about protecting its long-term health and sustainability. One of my proudest moments in public office was getting my bipartisan bill to improve cleanup effortsin the Chesapeake Bay — the largest estuary in the U.S. — signed into law last year.

Advanced safety measures should be applied to any energy extraction efforts in the America. I – along with a Democratic White House and a bipartisan majority of Virginia’s congressional delegation – would not support the idea if I doubted our ability to put environmental safeguards in place. 

Public discourse is at frequent risk of distraction by short-sighted, reactionary impulses that overshadow the long-term solutions our nation needs. While drastic fluctuations in the price of crude oil are certainly noteworthy, they should not, by themselves, preclude the safe, purposeful development of our existing resources. Responsible energy exploration off the Atlantic coast will help to reinforce the lasting stability of our energy supply and strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness for years to come.

Rob Wittman is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of Virginia.

Note: This piece originally appeared online in The New York Times' Room for Debate section.
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