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Obama Administration Indefinitely Postpones Scoping of Off-shore Oil Lease Proposal for Coastal Virginia


Obama administration officials are indefinitely postponing public scoping on an off-shore oil and gas lease proposal for an area of coastal Virginia, a move that drew quick applause in some circles.

The announcement comes as crews continue to work to cap an oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that is threatening to coat the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida with light oil.

An announcement on the Interior Department's website Thursday stated the scoping period was being put off "so that information from the ongoing review of Outer Continental Shelf safety issues that the President has directed can be appropriately considered in those meetings. Additionally, the Minerals Management Service and its Gulf of Mexico staff are focusing their attention on the Deepwater Horizon incident and would be unable to conduct the meetings until a later date."

A notice (attached) is to be published in the Federal Register on Friday announcing the cancellation of public hearings and the acceptance of public comments on the possible environmental impacts of the proposed sale.

“I’m glad to see the President responding to the growing scandal over the Department of Interior’s exemption of BP’s Gulf Coast drilling from environmental review,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “All new offshore oil drilling needs to be put on hold immediately.”

The notice cancels three public hearings scheduled in May and indefinitely postpones the comment period aimed at soliciting public input on the environmental effects of proposed Lease Sale 220. These opportunities for public participation are part of the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, a step required to move forward with offshore lease sales. Lease Sale 220 is scheduled to take place in 2011, opening a large area for oil development off the coast of Virginia in a few years. The Federal Register Notice to be published tomorrow puts Lease Sale 220 on hold “pending a decision by the Secretary of the Interior.”

“The need to stop offshore oil drilling in the Arctic is even more pressing,” said Mr. Suckling. “Atlantic drilling would not have happened for a few years. The Department of Interior has approved new offshore oil drilling in the Arctic for this July.

“Opening Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast to new offshore oil drilling was the brainchild of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar,” added Suckling. “The President should pull back from the entire Salazar plan, not just the Atlantic Coast portions.”


The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 should have taught the nation a lesson; once large volumes of oil are released into the ocean it is virtually impossible to effectively influence its movement, recover more than a tiny fraction of its mass or to prevent it from contaminating lands and resources along whatever course it may take. The use of booms, skimmer ships, chemical dispersants or beach clean up efforts are PR efforts that do little more than possibly assuage public anger and give political cover to those responsible. It is like trying to capture and control the smoke of a raging forest fire. Unfortunately, the oil will not blow away like smoke. It will float for months in the water moving with wind, tides and currents. Wherever it comes into contact with a solid surface it will stick to it. Wildlife will be caught in its oily snare. It will settle onto the sea floor to be ingested by fish, shrimp and other forms of sea life. The sludge will eventually be carried into salt water marshes, beaches and tidal zones of the mouths of rivers. Much of it will be incorporated into the beaches and marshes where it will continue to leach into the environment for decades to come. A spill of this magnitude in the Arctic Ocean would be unimaginably destructive. The loss of habitat for migratory birds, sea mammals (incl. whales) and other wildlife would have global implications.

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