The thought of exploring for oil and gas near Chesapeake Bay leaves us uncomfortable. Bay marine life is too fragile to withstand damage caused by an accidental oil spill. That could erase the many gains made to restore the bay to good health and devastate aquatic life.
Yet Texaco seeks a relaxation of a two-year moratorium on drilling along Virginia's Chesapeake shores. Texaco hopes to convince Virginia officials that more domestic oil-producing sources are necessary to reduce our dependency on oil produced in the Middle East. A recent well sunk by the company just outside the 500-foot protected zone along the Chesapeake coast in Westmoreland County was promising enough to warrant further exploration, Texaco believes.
Oil companies can drill anywhere outside the area protected under Virginia regulations, if they meet state requirements. Texaco's detailed description of directional methods of drilling left a positive impression with members of a state committee taking testimony in Richmond on the company's recent drilling results. To avoid the protected area, drillers sink wells diagonally or vertically. Once they are lower than the natural water depths, they turn their equipment under the very bottom of the bay in search of oil.
Here's hoping Virginia doesn't cave in to further appeals from oil companies for exploration within the protected zone, particularly Westmoreland County between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. Should that happen, pressure would mount to lower Maryland's own legal barriers against oil drilling.
Maryland's Critical Areas Commission is seeking stronger regulations to protect the bay from oil spills caused by oil transport and drilling. But pressure to expand domestic oil exploration could build, especially in light of the worrisome situation in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The panel, though, is on the right course. It should continue to advocate tougher safeguards for the Chesapeake.