Salazar eyes sequential offshore drilling plans

Those regions had been off-limits until Congress allowed longstanding drilling bans to lapse in 2008 during a frenzied election-year debate over energy prices.

Nobody expected Salazar to adopt the Bush-era proposal whole cloth. But it had been unclear whether he would seek to modify it, or allow the current plan to run its course before a new lease sale schedule begins.

The White House has signaled that it is open to expanded offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy and climate package. Salazar’s upcoming announcement could tip the administration’s hand to some degree about what new areas it may be willing to consider.

But questions also remain about the remainder of the current 2007-2012 leasing schedule. A federal appeals court last year found that Interior botched a key environmental analysis when crafting the 2007-2012 plan and ordered a revised study.

The case concerns oil-and-gas leasing in waters off Alaska’s coast. Interior’s court-ordered reanalysis is ongoing.

Another big question is whether Salazar will proceed next year with a lease sale off Virginia’s coast.

Salazar spoke to reporters Wednesday after appearing at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to discuss Interior's budget.