MMS takes first steps for leasing process off Virginia

The US Minerals Management Service has taken the first step in the multiyear leasing process to hold a sale for acreage off Virginia.

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Nov. 12 -- The US Minerals Management Service has taken the first step in the multiyear leasing process to hold a sale for acreage off Virginia.

The call for information and interest (CII) and nominations and notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact statement will be published in the Nov. 13 Federal Register, beginning a 45-day public comment period, MMS said.

"The purpose of the CII and NOI is to gather information to use for planning and analysis and does not indicate a preliminary decision to hold a lease sale," MMS said, adding, "The final decision will be made at a later date only if the sale is in compliance with applicable laws including all requirements of the [Outer Continental Shelf] Lands Act and the National Environmental Policy Act."

MMS Director Randall Luthi said, "At the request of [Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine], 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."

The sale, referred to as Lease Sale 220, is proposed to be held in 2011, MMS said.

The area off Virginia was initially included in the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program: 2007-12 but leasing was prohibited due to an executive withdrawal and a Congressional moratorium. In July, President George W. Bush lifted the withdrawal and the Congressional moratoria expired on Sept. 30. Both of these actions allowed the option of the special interest lease sale.

Luthi noted that an environmental impact study (EIS) will evaluate environmental resources and potential impacts in this part of the mid-Atlantic—an area that has not held a lease sale since 1983.

"Throughout the scoping process for the EIS, federal, state, and local governmental agencies, along with all other interested parties, have the opportunity to aid MMS in determining the significant issues and alternatives for analysis in the EIS we are preparing under NEPA," Luthi said.

Currently, the area offshore Virginia being considered for leasing includes a 50-mile buffer and a no-obstruction zone from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, as requested by the governor. As with any sale, the public will have multiple opportunities for input into the sale process.

API response
The American Petroleum Institute reported that it "welcomed" government work on leasing off Virginia.

API Pres. and Chief Executive Officer Jack Gerard said, "The American public has made clear its strong support for increased access to untapped domestic oil and natural gas resources; a full 70% of Virginians in July supported increased access."

Gerard said, "The industry stands ready to help put America's vast energy resources to good use to strengthen our nation's economy and energy security, generate billions of dollars for the benefit of our federal and state treasuries, and provide good jobs for Americans across the country."

He said, "The industry has proven it can develop these resources in an environmentally safe manner. With energy consumption expected to grow in the coming decades, America needs access to its untapped domestic resources. Beginning the process of leasing offshore Virginia is a good start."

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