Massachusetts has filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to block the scheduled Jan. 31 lease sale of nearly 1 million acres of oil and natural gas tracts in the North Atlantic off the New England coast.

The suit charged drilling will "cause substantial damage to marine and coastal resources of immense value to the Commonwealth" and the federal government miscalculated the harm it will do the state's fishing and beach resort industries.

The action also asks the court to require the federal government to adopt measures to protect the rich Georges Bank fishing area, including "adequate oil spill compensation, appropriate oil tanker safety standards and regulations adequate to prevent catastrophic occurrences" such as oil spills.

In a related action, the Conservation Law Foundation of Boston also filed suit to delay the lease sales. The private conservation group, representing fisherman and private citizens, cited an environmental impact statement prepared by the Interior Department estimating drilling in the area will result in oil spills between 130,000 and 650,000 barrels a year for 20 to 40 years.

However, the New England Council, a regional non-profit business organization, filed a petition asking to intervene as supporters of the sale.