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Virginia Senators Want Lease Sale to Move Forward

U.S. Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation Wednesday that would open the door for oil and gas exploration and production off the coast of Virginia.

The Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2011 directs the Department of Interior (DOI) to revise the map of the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), especially the Virginia portion, and to include any additional territory to the DOI's five-year leasing program for 2012-2017.

The bill also calls for the DOI to include Lease Sale 220, which includes 2.9 million acres 50 miles off the Virginia coast, in the 2012-2017 leasing program.

"We should not be sending hundreds of billions of dollars each year to oil-producing countries that do not like us," Warner said Wednesday. "Sen. Webb and I firmly believe that Virginians should benefit from any energy resources that are developed off of our coast, and our legislation specifically requires the federal government to make reasonable royalty payments to [Virginia]."

Under the bill, 50% of the revenues from the lease sales would go to the federal treasury and 37.5% would go to the state of Virginia. President Obama would decide where the remaining 12.5% would be spent, but it would go toward land and water conservation, public transportation and alternative energy projects in Virginia.

The bill directs the DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) to revise its map entitled "Atlantic NAD 83 Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries." The map was apparently last updated in January 2010.

"Opening up and expanding Virginia's offshore resources to responsible natural gas and oil exploration holds significant promise for boosting needed domestic energy production, while bolstering [Virginia's] economy," Webb said.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell called the bill a "common sense proposal" for Virginia and urged Congress "to take up this legislation immediately and pass it swiftly."

"Allowing environmentally responsible offshore energy development off the coast of Virginia will help move our nation closer to energy independence," McDonnell said. "There is strong, bipartisan support for offshore energy exploration and production in Virginia. It is time we got serious about American energy security. This legislation does that."

In May Senate Democrats -- including Warner and Webb -- helped block a Republican bill that would have promoted drilling off the coasts of Virginia and Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), directed the DOI to conduct lease sales and extended GOM leases that were affected by the 2010 moratorium (see Daily GPI, May 19; May 17). The bill (S 953) was defeated by a 42-57 vote.

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