Industry, US military can coexist in eastern gulf, report says

Oil and gas activity in the eastern Gulf of Mexico will not encroach on US military missions in the area, a report commissioned by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) concluded.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 19 -- Oil and gas activity in the eastern Gulf of Mexico will not encroach on US military missions in the area, a report commissioned by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) concluded.

The report, produced in collaboration with Commonwealth Consulting Corp., examined claims of potential impacts dating from 2005 before the US Department of Defense put systems in place to evaluate such claims. It concluded such tools clearly show oil and gas production will not interfere with military missions in the eastern gulf.

The finding is significant since the US Minerals Management Service estimates the eastern gulf contains 3.9 billion bbl of recoverable crude and 21.5 tcf of recoverable natural gas.

“If expanded energy production in the gulf put our armed forces or our nation’s readiness in danger, we would never support it,” said Charles F. Wald, a retired US Air Force general on SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council. “But this report makes clear that there is no conflict in the overwhelming majority of cases,” he continued. “We can improve our energy security and remain at peak military readiness at the same time.”

‘Totally confident’
Wald said he frequently flew and fired missiles in the eastern gulf; he said there never have been any conflicts with surface activity in the area. “I for one am totally confident that drilling and military missions can coexist in the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” he stated.

In a teleconference with reporters, US Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the report’s conclusion supports an amendment he sponsored authorizing oil and gas development in the eastern gulf, which became part of the energy bill approved by the committee last year. “It’s my assessment that we’ll not do climate change this year, but do an energy bill instead, which is friendly to climate,” he said. “Today, the question is can we, should we, will we open the [eastern gulf] to additional oil and gas production. My answer to that is ‘yes.’”

‘No surprise’
US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) strongly opposes the idea. “It should come as no surprise that a group that touts drilling off Florida should produce a study saying drilling there is okay,” Nelson responded in a statement. “And it’s probably no coincidence that the sponsor of the legislation today also touted the study in question while renewing a call for passage of his bill.”

Nelson said while the report cited claims by former military officials that armed forces training off Florida could coexist with oil and gas activity, “the Pentagon for years has said otherwise,” and it remains DOD policy that military exercises in the eastern gulf are incompatible with drilling operations.

But the report said the US Department of Defense’s ability to assess encroachment impacts has only recently reached a level where it could credibly assert whether nonmilitary activities threaten national security.

“Therefore, the oft-referenced 2005 letter from then-secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the Senate Armed Services Committee and other assertions that oil and gas exploration and development in the [eastern gulf] would negatively affect military training and readiness were premature and based on incomplete information,” the report continued.

The report said a government assessment in 2009 showed Air Force and Navy mission ranges in the gulf were minimally affected by encroachment. That includes areas of oil and gas exploration and production near Pensacola, Fla., New Orleans, and Corpus Christi, Tex.

John F. Lehman, a member of SAFE’s energy security council, told reporters he spent a lot of time as US Navy secretary in 1981-87 dealing with joint-use issues on the West Coast, in Hawaii and in the gulf. “Virtually all of our ranges have some joint use. We try to have minimal impacts on sea commerce, fishing, and geological evaluations. This is a well established process to resolve any difficulties that may arise. I believe it’s one of the easier issues to resolve,” he said.

Another member of SAFE’s energy security council, Gregory G. Johnson, former commander of US naval forces in Europe, said the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gives military authorities and the president the right to designate specific areas vital for national defense.

“Cancellation of leases can occur at any time if the secretary determines that continued operation will threaten national defense,” he observed. “There is nothing in the current law we are proposing which would mitigate that.”

The report is available online at www.secureenergy.org/files/files/1103_FinalEasternGulfPaper.pdf.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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