RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia Senate committee on Tuesday advanced measures that would ban offshore drilling as well as hydraulic fracturing in much of eastern Virginia.
Similar versions of both measures have been proposed in previous years but died in what was then a Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources voted 10-5 Tuesday to approve Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell's measure prohibiting fracking in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area.
Surovell sponsored a similar bill two years ago. It died in a committee on a tied vote.
He said that the bill was necessary to protect the Potomac Aquifer, a drinking water source for millions of people, because a company has signed leases to frack in the Taylorsville Basin. Surovell also said he wants to prevent any other company that might seek to acquire a lease.
Environmental advocates urged lawmakers to pass the bill. Representatives of the Virginia Petroleum Council and the Virginia Oil and Gas Association opposed it, arguing it was unnecessary and that fracking can be conducted safely.
The vote on the offshore drilling ban was 11-3. Environmental groups also supported that bill, which was opposed by the Virginia Petroleum Council.
In addition to prohibiting drilling leases, easements, or permits on the beds of state waters, the measure also removes policy statements in state code that say Virginia supports federal efforts to permit offshore oil and gas developments.
In Virginia, the possibility of drilling off the Atlantic seaboard has brought together a diverse group of opponents who say it could threaten the state's tourism industry and hinder the military, which has a huge presence in Hampton Roads.
The measures still must advance through the full Senate as well as the House.