Is the Interior Department really giving a fair and balanced review of the properties up for consideration for oil and gas leasing? Or, as the data we posted earlier this week suggest, is it engaged in a pattern of blocking any progress with repeated delays and endless red tape?

In support of the second theory, you might want to submit the recent delays to allow drilling off the coast of Virginia as Exhibit A. Except that there have been so many other instances of stalling tactics all around the country, that it’s getting hard to count them all. Far from an isolated example of the country’s Interior Department blocking responsible development of natural resources, this latest delay — in what would have been the first Atlantic coast drilling project to get underway since the ban ended in 1998 – suggests more of the same. Ban or no ban, lots of projects are still being blocked.

You don’t necessarily think Big Oil when you think of the state of Virginia. But like so many states all around the country, Virginia’s estimated reserves are substantial. The three million acre swath located 50 miles offshore that was to have been leased next year, holds an estimated 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Now, the Interior Department says any lease sales will be delayed until at least 2012, and may not go forward at all.