TRENTON - Environmentalists and some New Jersey congressmen say a federal plan to allow drilling off the Virginia coast could result in oil spills reaching Garden State shores and open the door to further drilling in the Atlantic.
On Monday, the secretary of the Interior Department outlined a plan to allow oil and gas drilling in more areas of the Gulf of Mexico, offshore in Alaska and, for the first time, off the Virginia coast.
The plan would allow the federal government to sell leases to drill off the Virginia coast by 2011.
But before that can happen, both Congress and the President would have to lift drilling bans limiting oil and gas development offshore, said Gary Strasburg, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil, natural gas and other mineral resources in federal waters offshore.
A number of New Jersey politicians have lobbied heavily against the plan. They say it would endanger the New Jersey shore if oil from a spill near Virginia were to drift north.
"Allowing drilling off the coast of Virginia puts New Jersey's shores and wildlife at risk of contamination from oil spills and leakage," said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.).
Lautenberg and New Jersey's other senator, fellow Democrat Robert Menendez, said the plan would also encourage more oil and gas drilling along other coastal states. They said the Bush administration should put more money into developing renewable sources of energy.
U.S. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, a Republican who represents many coastal communities including Cape May, said an oil spill would seriously hurt the state's fishing and tourism industries.
"The only oil we should see on New Jersey's beach is tanning oil," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "Once again, the Bush administration is on the side of Big Oil and against the environment and people of the United States."