The Gulf of Mexico is a busy place. The open expanse of waters makes it an ideal location for sports enthusiasts, sun seekers, and fishermen — as well as numerous military facilities. It is home to several Navy and Air Force aviation bases, and hundreds of pilots train over its waters every day. The Navy uses the Gulf’s expanse to conduct sea trials and perform other training operations, exercises, and testing.
“The Mississippi Gulf Coast is extremely suited to nearly all the mission types the Navy addresses,” says Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Commands.
And the United States military has been able, and continues, to perform these countless tasks in the Gulf of Mexico despite the 4,000 oil rigs dotted across the sparkling waters off the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
So we were a bit perplexed last Wednesday when U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat, urged fellow members of the House Natural Resources Committee to support his proposal banning offshore leases for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic, telling them it was a “national security amendment.”
And what risk do these offshore leases pose to national security?
Brown’s amendment, it seems, was submitted during committee consideration of the SECURE American Energy Act, which would promote expanded exploration, development, and production of oil, gas, and wind resources both onshore and offshore. The congressman says his proposal needed approval “because of what we ask our men and women in uniform to do and what they need in training, resources, leadership.”
Although the Defense Department has not stated an official position on the bill, its latest assessment of military compatibility with offshore drilling in the Atlantic suggests it would prefer access and exploration to all coastal waters from Virginia to Georgia be strictly limited — if granted at all. The Pentagon claims it would need “site specific stipulations” over 90 percent of the offshore areas being considered for exploration. The remaining 10 percent would be either off-limits to surface structures or completely inaccessible.
Brown’s amendment was voted down 22-13, along party lines. Congressional Republicans say the energy bill is a boon for jobs, economic growth, and energy independence for the entire Mid-Atlantic region without endangering environmental protections. They note that a memorandum of understanding between the DoD and the Department of the Interior already says the military must be consulted before any offshore leases are proposed.
They are right. Brown’s intentions may be noble, and the DoD’s needs understandable, but an outright ban on offshore leases for oil and gas exploration is overkill. What’s more, it’s short-sighted, given the DoD’s reliance on the very thing those offshore rigs bring up from the ocean’s depths.
We are staunch supporters of a strong national defense. But until the day comes when the Department of Defense is no longer the world’s largest consumer of oil, it’s going to need to be more flexible when it comes to the exploration, development, and production of offshore resources. In that sense, Brown’s measure is a lot like NASCAR banning gasoline from Bristol Motor Speedway.
Ensuring energy independence, less reliance on foreign oil suppliers, and keeping fuel costs down benefit the military every bit as much as the U.S. economy.
Adapted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch