UPDATE: Sen. Nelson spoke briefly on the Senate floor this evening about the letter his office obtained today from the Pentagon. You can watch video of Nelson’s remarks here:
The Pentagon says maintaining the current moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022 is “essential for developing and sustaining our nation’s future combat capabilities.”
“The Department of Defense (DoD) cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta, the acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, wrote in a letter to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The letter obtained today by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s office was sent just days before the president signed an executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling near Florida’s coast, often argues in Senate debates that attempts to expand offshore drilling could threaten our nation’s military readiness by disrupting military weapons testing and training in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2006, he and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022.
As a result, there is currently a no-drilling zone that extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and as far as 235 miles at some points to protect vital military training areas in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022.
Earlier this year, Nelson filed legislation to extend the moratorium for another five years, from 2022 to 2027.
It’s not the first time the Pentagon has weighed in on the oil-and-gas drilling issue. In 2005, at the request of Nelson, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said legislation that would allow drilling closer to Florida’s coast is “incompatible with military [testing and training] activities” in the Gulf of Mexico.
Below is a copy of the letter sent to Rep. Gaetz. A PDF is available here. And a PDF copy of the 2005 Rumsfeld letter is available here.
The Honorable Matt Gaetz
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Gaetz:
Thank you for your letter dated March 24, 2017, regarding maintaining the moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022. Since military readiness falls under my purview, I have been asked to respond to your letter on behalf of the Secretary of Defense. The Department of Defense (DoD) cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium.
National security and energy security are inextricably linked and the DoD fully supports the development of our nation’s domestic energy resources in a manner that is compatible with military testing, training, and operations. As mentioned in your letter, the complex of eastern Gulf of Mexico operating areas and warning areas provides critical opportunities for advanced weapons testing and joint training exercises. The moratorium on oil and gas “leasing, pre leasing, and other related activities” ensures that these vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation. Emerging technologies such as hypersonics, autonomous systems, and advanced sub-surface systems will require enlarged testing and training footprints, and increased DoD reliance on the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act’s moratorium beyond 2022. The moratorium is essential for developing and sustaining our nation’s future combat capabilities .
Since signing the 1983 “Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior on Mutual Concerns on the Outer Continental Shelf,” the two departments have worked cooperatively to ensure offshore resource development is compatible with military readiness activities. During recent discussions between the DoD and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a question arose concerning whether Congress intended the moratorium to prohibit even geological and geophysical survey activities in the eastern Gulf. We would welcome clarification from Congress concerning this matter.
On behalf of the Secretary, I appreciate your interest in sustaining our testing and training activities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Performing the Duties of the Undersecretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness