WASHINGTON — The U.S. Minerals Management Service said on Wednesday it has started the process to consider selling leases to drill for oil and natural gas off the coast of Virginia.
The agency planned to issue a notice today requesting public comments and evaluating the possible environmental impacts of drilling offshore Virginia.
Although the service has started gathering information, it said no official decision has been made to actually hold a lease sale. If the agency decides to allow drilling, the first lease sale for the area is proposed for 2011.
Virginia's offshore areas were included in the agency's five-year leasing plan ending in 2012, but until recently oil drilling was banned off the state's coast.
"At the request of the governor, MMS included the area offshore Virginia based on the commonwealth's current energy policy and continued interest in knowing what resources may be off its coastline," agency Director Randall Luthi said.
President George W. Bush lifted the long-standing ban on offshore drilling in most areas of the United States in July. Congress followed suit, allowing the moratorium to expire at the end of September.
The issue of expanding offshore drilling was at the heart of a heated battle between Democrats and Republicans in Congress this summer. As gas prices soared to record levels, Republicans called for ending the prohibition on offshore drilling, but many Democrats opposed the change.
Unable to reach an agreement with Republicans, Democrats reluctantly dropped the ban from a temporary spending bill.
It is possible that lawmakers against the expanded drilling could pursue reinstating the ban or adding additional restrictions to drilling when they return to Capitol Hill.
© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.