Defense and energy can co-exist offshore, industry says

May 11 (UPI) — Oil and gas operations in parts of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico can coexist with national defense priorities, industry supporters said of a Pentagon review.

The U.S. Department of Defense answered Congressional questions on oil and gas operations in the eastern waters of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. That acreage is deemed critical and “irreplaceable” to U.S. military readiness.

In January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced most of the nation’s outer continental shelf was being considered for drilling, including off the coasts of Maine, California, Florida and Alaska.

The proposal was hailed by the oil and gas industry, but was met with criticism from elected officials from both political parties in the affected regions, along with environmentalists, fisheries groups and the Department of Defense.

By addressing the issue, the oil and gas industry said there was room to cooperate on national priorities like defense and energy dominance, one of President Donald Trump’s goals.

“The report shows there is a lot of ocean out there and while there will be devils in the details, the overall message from the Pentagon should be interpreted as cooperation and coordination,” Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in a statement.

Some of the region used for military training, meanwhile, runs up the eastern coast of Florida, a state at the center of the debate over Trump’s offshore agenda. Shortly after the offshore plan was released, Zinke told Florida Gov. Rick Scott that Florida was removed from consideration, but officials at the Interior Department later said the state was still under drilling consideration.

The Defense Department’s report identifies areas in the Gulf of Mexico that are off limits to drillers for national security purposes. The Pentagon’s report said about 101,000 square miles of surface and airspace east of the so-called military mission line is off the table for energy development.

“Simply stated, if oil and gas development were to extend east of the military mission line, without sufficient surface limiting stipulations and/or oil and gas activity restrictions mutually agreed by the Departments of Defense and Interior, military flexibility in the region would be lost and test and training activities would be severely affected,” the Pentagon’s report read.

The military mission line extends south from the Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle.