Interior offshore drilling announcement coming 'very soon'

“Interior is ready to announce the results of its analysis and review, and will communicate those results to the Court on the date of the announcement, expected very soon,” states a Department of Justice filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday.

The case centers around the extent of development allowed off Alaska’s coast (environmentalists who brought the case say the Bush-era plans are harmful). But the forthcoming announcement could address a suite of other questions, including whether Interior will proceed with a lease sale off Virginia’s coast that had been scheduled for next year.

More broadly, President Obama has said he is open to wider offshore drilling as part of a more sweeping overhaul of energy and climate change policy.

Reuters reported Monday night that the administration is expected to announce updated drilling plans by Wednesday. The Reuters account, citing industry sources, said President Obama was expected to discuss energy security when he speaks at Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday.

A White House spokesman did not respond to inquiries, and an Interior Department spokeswoman declined comment when contacted by The Hill.

Longstanding bans that had covered the Atlantic and Pacific coasts expired in late 2008, but the Obama administration has not yet signaled where it may expand leasing.

Large swaths of the eastern Gulf of Mexico that the oil-and-gas industry covets remain off-limits under a separate 2006 law. But the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a broad energy bill last June that greatly shrinks the size of the no-drilling buffer off of Florida’s western shores.

**Update: Industry and environmental group sources expect Obama and other administration officials to announce plans for expanded offshore leasing tomorrow. These sources expect the expansion to take effect after Interior’s current 2007-2012 plan ends.

That timing is consistent with Salazar's comments earlier this month, when he said the current five-year plan would run its course before another one begins (the Bush administration, in contrast, had floated a draft 2010-2015 plan that would have supplanted the current program).

An industry source tells me that oil-and-gas industry lobbyists expect a Virginia lease sale that had been scheduled for 2011 to be pushed back into the next five-year plan. The Obama administration will also propose leasing off the coasts of other southeastern states, this source expects.