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Virginia's Plea for Delay of Offshore Sale Rejected

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has rejected a request by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine to delay a planned oil and natural gas lease sale off the state's coast.

In a mid-December letter to MMS Director Randall Luthi, Kaine cited the importance of obtaining seismic data in the Atlantic basin, the lengthy environmental review process and the need to close "significant holes in the availability of biological and other environmental information in the Atlantic coastal area, including off of the coast [of] Virginia," as reasons to delay the planned 2011 lease sale.

"It appears that it will take some time to obtain this information and complete an EIS [environmental impact statement] for the proposed Sale 220 by its scheduled date. We believe the MMS should first spend its resources on development and interpretation of new, modern seismic data, and on establishing the environmental baseline data necessary to adequately complete the lease sale EIS. This requires a delay in the proposed lease sale," Kaine wrote.

But Luthi said a delay isn't necessary because any drilling is years away and will come only after significant study and public input, the Associated Press reported. MMS officials were not available for comment Friday. Kaine may find the Obama administration more receptive to his request.

The offshore Virginia lease sale is the first lease sale that MMS has proposed off the East Coast in nearly three decades. The sale area is believed to contain 1.14 Tcf of natural gas and 130 MMbbl of crude oil, according to the agency.

The momentum for a lease sale offshore Virginia picked up steam when President Bush in July lifted the presidential ban that placed the East and West coasts and parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off limits to leasing and drilling activity, and the congressional moratorium on leasing in those areas expired on Oct. 1. This left the Outer Continental Shelf free of restrictions for the first time in decades (see NGI, Oct. 6, 2008; July 21, 2008).

State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia) has been lobbying for years to get the state and Congress to open Virginia's coastline. In February 2005 both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates approved legislation that would have cleared the way for leasing, but it was subsequently vetoed by then-Gov. Mark Warner (see NGI, April 11, 2005). Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.

The Virginia lease sale was recommended to the MMS by Kaine, Luthi said, but Kaine disputes this. "You characterized this action as being taken at the request of Virginia's governor. To the contrary, I have not requested that MMS move ahead on the lease sale as you are planning."

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