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Interior Department says military's concerns to help determine future of Virginia oil drilling

Rosalind Helderman

The Department of Interior says a newly released Pentagon report on the possible disruptions of oil drilling off Virginia's coast to the military "will be an important part of the public discussion about whether to move forward with the sale."

That was the word late Tuesday from Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. A Defense Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that they had shared the results of their study with Interior before President Obama announced in March that he was lifting a moratorium on oil drilling in areas of the East Coast. Obama said at the time that drilling activities could not interfere with the military, which now seems like an especially big caveat in the case of Virginia's early lease sale.

"The Secretary has made clear that a final decision on whether to move forward with [the Virginia lease sale] will depend on safety reviews that are under way in response to the BP oil spill and whether leasing off the coast of Virginia can be done in a way that protects the military mission and the environment. We have been in communication with the Department of Defense on this issue for some time and this report will be an important part of the public discussion about whether to move forward with the sale," Barkoff said in a statement.

Meanwhile, since the explosion of a oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent major oil spill, there has been a major push to reinstate the moratorium and call off the Virginia lease sale, which is to conclude in 2012. Though Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has been pushing for the sale to continue, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar faced repeated questions about the moratorium on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Also late Tuesday, the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) released a statement on the Defense Department report. Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said: "This is the reason why we have a multi-year, multi-agency review process, to allow local, state and federal stakeholders to weigh-in and recommend ways to mitigate any concerns. Senator Warner believes we should gather all of the relevant information as we continue to evaluate Virginia's offshore wind, natural gas and oil potential."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  May 19, 2010; 8:07 AM ET
Categories:  James P. Moran Jr. , Mark Warner , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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