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.”