Washington: President Barack Obama is to announce on Wednesday a plan to permit exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of Virginia as a way to create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Obama, who wants Congress to move a stalled climate change bill, has sought to reach out to Republicans by signaling he is open to allowing offshore drilling, providing coastlines are protected.
Joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Obama is to detail an updated plan for offshore oil and natural gas drilling in remarks at a military base in nearby Maryland.
For more than 20 years, drilling was banned in most offshore areas of the United States outside the Gulf of Mexico because of concerns that spills could harm the environment.
The administration has been weighing the pros and cons of offshore drilling since it took office and put the brakes on a Bush-era proposal which called for drilling along the East Coast and off the coast of California.
An administration official said, as part of the new plan, Interior will conduct the first new offshore oil and gas sale in the Atlantic Ocean in over two decades as part of a lease sale 50 miles off the coast of Virginia.
Seismic exploration in the south Atlantic and mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf of the United States will determine the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources to support energy planning.
The Bush plan had called for leases to be offered in November 2011, but it was not immediately clear whether the Obama administration would stick to that schedule. A senior Interior official said in January that drilling off Virginia`s coast would be delayed past the original 2011 leasing date.
The proposed Virginia lease area, located about 50 miles from shore, may hold 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, based on Interior Department estimates.
In addition, the Interior Department will continue lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, which have proved to have sizable reserves. Much of the Eastern Gulf is currently under a congressional moratorium on oil and gas operations. The Interior Department`s plan would open up about two-thirds of the available oil and gas resources in this region in the event that the moratorium is lifted, the official said.
Military training in the Eastern Gulf will be protected and drilling activities will occur more than 125 miles from the Florida coast.