November 14, 2008

Feds Take Steps Toward Coastal Drilling

The U.S. government has taken the first steps to open waters off the Virginia coast to drilling for oil and natural gas.

The plan to sell drilling rights on the Outer Continental Shelf at least 50 miles from the coast must pass an environmental study and public comment period, The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot reported. The earliest drilling could begin would be 2011.

Randall Luthi, director of the federal Minerals Management Service, announced the proposal Wednesday, saying the area may hold 130 million barrels of oil and 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. He said Virginia would receive no direct revenues but would get new jobs and other benefits.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club oppose offshore drilling. Drilling off Virginia also worries the Defense Department, which fears interference with training exercises run out of Virginia and Maryland.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain made offshore drilling a key part of his campaign, with supporters chanting "drill, baby, drill" at rallies. President-elect Barack Obama modified his opposition to new offshore drilling as gas prices rose.

President George W. Bush revoked an executive order his father signed in 1990 banning offshore drilling outside the Gulf Coast.