MMS begins preparation process for 2011 lease sale off Virginia

The US Minerals Management Service took the first step on Nov. 12 toward holding an offshore oil and gas lease sale off Virginia in 2011.

The US Minerals Management Service took the first step on Nov. 12 toward holding an offshore oil and gas lease sale off Virginia in 2011.

MMS said that it would publish a call for information and interest/nominations and notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement on the proposed sale in the Nov. 12 Federal Register. The action will trigger a 45-day public comment.

The call and notice of intent are designed to gather information for planning and analysis and do not indicate that a preliminary decision to hold the lease sale has been made, the US Department of the Interior agency emphasized. It said that the final decision will be made later only if the proposed sale complies with applicable laws, including all requirements of the OCS Lands Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The 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," MMS Director Randall B. Luthi said. Federal, state and local government agencies, along with all other interested parties, will have the opportunity during the scoping process to help MMS determine significant issues and alternatives for alternatives in the EIS which is being prepared, he said.

MMS made the area part of its 2007-12 five-year US Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Plan after Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine ask that it be included after signing into law a comprehensive statewide energy plan which included a possible OCS lease sale. Leasing was prohibited until US President George W. Bush lifted an executive withdrawal and Congress let OCS leasing moratoriums expire at the end of September.

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 Kaine, according to MMS.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard applauded the move to begin "a public comment period and a thorough environmental assessment ahead of offering offshore Virginia oil and natural gas leases. 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."

He said that the oil and gas industry stands ready to put more US energy resources to use in strengthening the nation's economy and energy security. 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," Gerard said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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