Interior suspends planned Va. lease sale

As the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill raises questions about the safety of offshore drilling, the Interior Department has indefinitely suspended plans for an oil and gas lease sale off the Virginia coastline.

The department postponed the comment period on the plan indefinitely and canceled a series of public meetings that had been scheduled for this month on the proposed lease sale. The move comes as the department seeks answers from investigations into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ongoing leak of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil every day into the Gulf.

Safety problems or other concerns raised in the reviews should be taken into account before moving forward with a new outer continental shelf (OCS) lease sale, the department said.

"The Department of the Interior is temporarily postponing public meetings on potential offshore activities so that information from the ongoing review of OCS safety issues that the president has directed can be appropriately considered in those meetings," Interior spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said.

"Additionally, the Minerals Management Service and its Gulf of Mexico staff have focused their attention on the Deepwater Horizon incident and would be unable to conduct the meetings until a later date."


In a notice to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, the Minerals Management Service announces the suspension of the comment period on the proposed Virginia lease sale, known formally as Outer Continental Shelf Mid-Atlantic Oil and Gas Lease Sale 220. No further comments are being solicited, pending a decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, it says.

Three public meetings that had been scheduled on May 12, 25 and 27 to solicit information to assist MMS in preparing an analysis of potential environmental effects of proposed Lease Sale 220 are canceled.

MMS also canceled a public meeting scheduled for May 12 in Norfolk, Va., to solicit public input on both Sale 220 and an analysis of the environmental effects of geological and geophysical exploration in the mid- and south Atlantic outer continental shelf. But that analysis will not be affected by the cancellation and will proceed as planned, MMS said.

President Obama in late March proposed opening new offshore areas to drilling and announced plans to hold by 2012 a lease sale 50 miles off the coast of Virginia and one in the Cook Inlet in Alaska, if the government determines it can be done in an environmentally responsible manner and does not interfere with military activities there.

On April 29, MMS published a notice in the Federal Register of the three public meetings and an extension through June 14 of the scoping period to prepare an environmental impact statement for the Virginia lease sale.

Click here to read the Federal Register notice.

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