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Gulf oil spill: Virginia offshore drilling plan postponed [Updated]

May 6, 2010 | 12:52 pm
The Interior Department said Thursday that it will halt temporarily its move toward allowing oil and gas drilling off Virginia, citing fallout from the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

President Obama announced last month that he would move ahead with the plan, which was aggressively courted by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

After the BP disaster, Obama announced he would suspend any new drilling in the gulf until investigators could determine the cause of the rig explosion and subsequent oil leak.

On Thursday, Interior spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said in an e-mail that similar concerns, along with manpower issues related to the spill, had caused the Minerals Management Service to postpone the public meetings that would have been the next step in the Virginia drilling process.

“The Department of the Interior is temporarily postponing public meetings on potential offshore activities so that information from the ongoing review of OCS safety issues that the president has directed can be appropriately considered in those meetings,” Lee-Ashley said.  “Additionally, the Minerals Management Service and its Gulf of Mexico staff have focused their attention on the Deepwater Horizon incident and would be unable to conduct the meetings until a later date.”

[Update at 1:28 p.m.: Environmental groups cheered the news.

“Today’s decision is a major win for the East Coast,” the group Oceana said in a press release, “as a spill similar to the Deepwater Drilling Disaster could impact many coasts and estuaries spanning from New Jersey to the Carolinas.”

Sierra Club Virginia chapter director Glen Besa said in a release that the club “is glad to see the dirty energy dominoes start to fall, and we welcome this decision that will protect our beaches and coastlines from the effects of dirty energy. It's too bad that it takes a tragedy of this scale to convince drilling supporters to change their ways.” ]

[Update at 3:17 p.m. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the administration's Virginia decision.

“We remain deeply concerned by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and getting to its root cause, however, today’s decision runs contrary to the administration’s commitment to refrain from snap judgments," said Karen Harbert, who heads the chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy.]

--Jim Tankserley

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