Offshore drilling for oil in the Atlantic Ocean could happen within 100 miles of New Jersey (and much closer to Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina) after the Department of the Interior this week initiated an oil and gas leasing process off the coast of Virginia.
A 45-day window for public comment opened Thursday on the environmental impact of leasing the offshore area for drilling, as well as for general comments and concerns.
The department's Minerals Management Service took the first step in opening waters off the coast of Virginia to offshore drilling for oil. President George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore drilling in many states in July. Congress allowed the annual moratorium to expire at the end of September.
The mid-Atlantic area has not had a lease sale since 1983, according to a statement from MMS. "This is the first step in a multistep leasing process," MMS spokeswoman Eileen Angelico said. "By putting out this call (for comments), this is not putting out a lease." Angelico said several opportunities for public comment are built into the leasing schedule. When the administration changes in 2009, the new secretary of the interior may choose to drop the leasing process.
Even with a change of administration only a couple of months away, environmental groups are expressing their concern and outrage over the possibility of offshore drilling.