Interior Dept. to Revamp New Plan for Oil, Gas Exploration on Outer Continental Shelf

By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Obama administration will set aside an "oil and gas or nothing" approach to energy exploration on the outer continental shelf and consider proposals for offshore wind farms alongside plans for new drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday.

Salazar said he will revamp the process for writing a new five-year plan for oil and gas exploration in that zone, which generally extends three to 200 miles from the U.S. coast. The plan, which must be in place by 2012, is intended to guide a new push for offshore exploration, made possible after Congress and President George W. Bush lifted years-old bans last year.

Salazar said the Interior Department will extend the public-comment period for the new plan, which had been scheduled to close March 23, by 180 days. But he also said the administration will look for ways to generate energy offshore by using renewable sources such as wind, waves or tides. He called the Bush administration's approach "a headlong rush of the worst kind" and "a process tilted toward the usual energy players."

The changes, Salazar said, "will restore order to a broken process."

He said he did not know how a new five-year plan would affect the prospect of natural gas drilling off Virginia, which is allowed under the five-year in plan in force now. Under the current plan, the government could auction leases to explore off Virginia as early as 2011.

Calling into question another Bush environmental policy yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will reconsider a rule that makes it easier for industrial plants, refineries and paper mills to expand operations without applying for new pollution permits.

The rule being reviewed says that when expanding or modernizing plants calculate their emissions to determine whether they need to install new pollution-control measures, they are not required to include emissions from unrelated activities at the same plant.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company