Federal judges in Norfolk and Brooklyn approved agreements yesterday delaying the start of drilling off the coasts of Virginia and New York until the disposition of lawsuits brought by those states seeking to block the drilling.
The state of Maryland said yesterday it will file a similar suit Monday, to prevent drilling off Ocean City.
The agreement approved yesterday in Norfolk by U. S. District Court Walker E. Hoffman delays drilling for oil and gas within 50 miles of Virginia's coast until the state's lawsuit against Interior Secretary James Watt is resolved.
Under the agreement approved in Brooklyn by U. S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein, the government will sign no leases on disputed territory off the coast of Long Island until the state has had a chance to contest the matter in court.
New York had sought to halt the leasing of 23 million acres of ocean floor off New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia because it believed 770,000 acres was too close to Long Island, thereby threatening fishing, recreation and tourism.
The agreement proposed by the government was that the lease sale go forward to see if any oil companies were interested in exploring the disputed area. If no bids were received, the state suit was moot. If a company sought to drill in the area, then the state could continue its court challenge.
"We're concerned about the award of leases within a 54-mile limit of the Maryland shoreline," said Eleanor Carey, state deputy attorney general. The lawsuit will contend that oil and gas drilling that near the coast would produce irreparable environmental damage to the state's coastline, she said.
Carey said Maryland is hoping to arrange an agreement similar to the one in Virginia.