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Meetings Delayed, But Offshore Drilling Isn't Canceled

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

The U.S. Interior Department is suspending, indefinitely, public hearings on the proposed sale of oil and gas leases off the coast of Virginia while it focuses on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Some environmental groups are hailing the decision, saying it may signal a move back toward a moratorium on drilling. But a delay of public hearings might not mean an end to drilling.

The Minerals Management Service - or MMS - had planned to begin leasing ocean floor 50 miles off Virginia's coast as early as 2012. Maureen Matsen is senior advisor on energy to Virginia's governor Bob McDonnel, who has been a steadfast proponent of offshore drilling. She says that 2012 lease sale could still happen on time.

"Well we have no reason to believe that it will delay the lease sale. MMS' order makes no reference to the lease sale, the 2012 plan is still in place," says Matsen.

Matsen says lessons learned from the Gulf of Mexico of Spill will minimize the likelihood of such a catastrophe off of Virginia.

"I think it's highly unlikely that the answer will be we shouldn't go forward," she says.

That remains to be seen. Environmental groups are lobbying intensely against drilling.

You can hear an extended interview with Maureen Matsen, Governor McDonnell's energy adviser, on our Web site, wamu.org, click on news.

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