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Gas and Oil Exploration Off Virginia Coast
November 17, 2008

Less than six weeks after Congress let a moratorium on off-shore drilling expire and two months before a change of presidential administrations, the federal government is moving forward with the process to lease land off the Virginia coast for oil and gas exploration.

The recent announcement by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service signals the beginning of a 45-day public comment period, after which the federal agency will consider selling leases in 2011. Virginia is the only state outside Alaska and those on the Gulf of Mexico eligible for leasing under the Minerals Management Service’s five-year plan that guides new off-shore exploration for 2007 to 2012.

The area considered for drilling is a 2.9 million-acre slice of the ocean floor more than 50 miles east of Virginia Beach and the state’s Eastern Shore. The Interior Department estimates it could contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Environmentalists argue that offshore drilling rigs would harm tourism and local infrastructure. They also see the offshore debate as a distraction from federal partnerships to invest in alternative energy, such as wind and solar power.

The United States uses about 21 million barrels of oil per day. A 2007 report by the federal Energy Information Administration found drilling on the Atlantic shelf would not have a significant impact on oil production until 2030. And then, the impact on prices was expected to be insignificant. Under current law, Virginia would receive no royalties from any oil and gas drawn from the area because states receive royalties only for leases within 3 miles of their coastal boundaries.

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