Pentagon wants offshore drilling ban maintained in eastern Gulf

Pentagon wants offshore drilling ban maintained in eastern Gulf
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The Pentagon wants to continue a ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that’s set to expire in five years.

A.M. Kurta, the acting under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, told a Florida lawmaker in a letter publicly released Monday that military training and related exercises in the eastern Gulf, which borders Florida, necessitate a continuation of Congress’s ban on drilling.

The letter Kurta wrote to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) adds a new wrinkle to the Trump administration’s drive to dramatically increase offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

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Trump ordered the Interior Department to write a new plan for offshore drilling rights sales and to consider areas currently off-limits to drilling.

An order signed Monday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the department will look at the entire Gulf of Mexico for potential drilling.

And the oil industry is gunning for the eastern Gulf, telling reporters yesterday that drilling there could create thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new investment.

But the Pentagon is pushing back against drilling in the eastern Gulf, near Florida.

“The moratorium … ensures that these vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation,” Kurta wrote to Gaetz in response to a letter inquiring about the drilling ban.

“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.”

The military uses the eastern Gulf as a training ground, the U.S. military’s largest training facility in the world. Florida’s hosts numerous military bases, including a major Air Force base near Tampa and naval stations in Key West, Panama City and Pensacola.

For decades, the federal government has prevented drilling in the eastern Gulf, due mostly to the military needs. The ban was formalized in 2006, thanks to legislation sponsored by Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonExpanded laptop ban alarms travel industry Why does air travel seem so miserable? Offshore drilling opponents gear up for Gulf fight MORE (D-Fla.) and then-Sen. Mel Martínez (D-Fla.), but that expires in 2022.

Nelson, who staunchly defends the drilling ban against any policy that could even slightly threaten it, filed legislation earlier this year to extend the prohibition through 2027.

Trump’s order specifically asks Interior to consult with the Pentagon as it formulates new drilling plans.