U.S. Reveals Its Plan for Drilling Off States Shores

U.S. Reveals Its Plan for Drilling Off States Shores

The Interior Department yesterday unveiled its proposal for expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, including a 2.9 million acre triangular area 50 miles or more off the coast of Virginia that could be leased by late 2011.

Members of Congress and environmental groups criticized the proposal, calling for increased energy efficiency and other measures to meet the nation’s energy needs.

Interior’s five-year plan, which would also add drilling areas to previously identified places off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, puts Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in an awkward position by singling out the state as a test case for easing the 25-year-old congressional moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said yesterday that expanded drilling in federal waters would create jobs, lower oil and gas prices and reduce U.S. dependence on oil and gas imports. He said the new exploration could be “accomplished in a safe and environmentally sound manner.”

The department focused on Virginia because of pro-drilling legislation passed last year by the state’s General Assembly and signed by Kaine. “President Bush puts a great deal of stock in the role of governors and states,” Kempthorne said. “I think the leadership of Virginia will play a key role in what will ultimately occur there.”

Kempthorne said the lease area for Virginia was moved to 50 miles offshore from 25 miles to accommodate Kaine.

Yesterday, Kaine said he had held talks with the Interior Department about the plan. But, he said, “we have concerns over possible impacts to our environmentally sensitive coastal region.”

He said Virginia law endorses natural gas, not oil, exploration. The two are often found together.

L. Preston Bryant Jr., Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, said federal officials had addressed two of the state’s main concerns: that a buffer zone be created for ships leaving the Chesapeake Bay and that the drilling not interfere with Navy ships. But he said he had other concerns, such as the threat to pristine stretches of ocean and the state’s barrier islands.

For exploration to begin, Congress must alter the moratorium it has renewed annually since 1982 banning oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. There were signs yesterday of how difficult that could be.

New Jersey Sens. Robert Menendez (D) and Frank Lautenberg (D) issued a statement saying that the administration “has proposed one reckless drilling plan after another that threatens our environment” and that Interior’s proposal “starts us down a slippery slope that could lead to drilling off of New Jersey’s coast.”

Environmentalists remained worried. Michael Town, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said yesterday that he would be concerned about drilling, even 50 miles offshore.

“You’d have the pipeline. You’d have the infrastructure,” Town said. Even if no oil spills near shore, he said, those things would make a serious impact on a lightly populated area whose economy relies heavily on fishing and tourism.

Information from: www.washingtonpost.com

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