The Washington Times - November 8, 2011, 03:35PM

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Tuesday released the Obama administration’s offshore oil and gas program for the next five years — a program that does not include plans for Virginia. And elected officials in the Commonwealth were none too pleased.

Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who have introduced legislation that would open up a triangular area off Virginia’s coast to oil and natural gas exploration and expand the state’s share of the planning area in the mid-Atlantic, said they would ask the administration to reconsider.

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“I am hopeful that the Administration will reconsider the inclusion of Virginia in its five-year lease plan,” said Mr. Webb. “Oil and gas exploration within the Virginia Outer Continental Shelf-if coupled with an equitable formula for sharing revenues between the state and federal governments-would boost domestic energy production, while benefitting the Commonwealth’s economy.”

Lease Sale 220 would open up a 2.9-million acre swath of land 50 miles off the cost of Virginia for oil and natural gas exploration. The federal government estimates that the area could contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a strong proponent of offshore drilling as a piece of his “all-of-the-above” plan to make Virginia the “Energy Capitol of the East Coast,” was sharply critical of the decision.

“When initially approving the sale of Virginia offshore leases in March 2010, President Obama said he was expanding offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic coast because ‘America must break its dependency on foreign oil and rely more on homegrown fuels and clean energy,’” said Mr. McDonnell. “That was well said.”

The lease sale was put on hold, however, following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010. Sufficient improvements have been made by the government and the industry in the interim, however, and new permits are being issued in the Gulf of Mexico, his office pointed out.

“This is another glaring example of the abysmal failure of the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive national energy policy,” Mr. McDonnell said. “This failure is preventing our great nation from using all of its God-given natural resources and creating good jobs in the process; jobs our citizens desperately need and deserve.”

He went on to say that the decision “represents an embarrassing policy of quitting on an important industry and a lack of confidence in the federal government and the American entrepreneur to solve problems and drill safely.”

Mr. McDonnell urged Congress to pass the legislation introduced by Mr. Warner and Mr. Webb in July  He also urged the body to pass legislation already approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that directs the Secretary of the Interior to conduct Lease Sale 220 within one year of the enactment of the “Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act.”

“This is disappointing, because the safe, responsible development of offshore energy resources has broad support from Virginians and among the bipartisan elected leadership of the state,” Mr. Warner said.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, had introduced similar legislation in the House in April, and Mr. Webb teamed up with former Sen. John Warner on an earlier proposal in 2008.