As the United States looks poised to become the world’s largest oil producer in coming years, offshore energy exploration could make a significant contribution in cementing the U.S.’s strong global edge on energy.
This not only enables us to be less reliant on foreign adversaries for energy but removes a common negotiating tactic that can be used by other countries that have geopolitical and energy production leverage. Additionally, it could help secure affordable and reliable U.S. energy for decades to come – something that isn’t currently top of mind for those that are experiencing decent prices at the pump.
One big step the U.S. could take to solidify our energy security position is to partially open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas leasing and development. The current Congressional moratorium on these activities runs out in 2022. While those opposed to offshore energy exploration and production continue to point to its incompatibility with our military’s activities in that area, the reality looks very different.
The Defense Department already conducts training and exercises off U.S. coasts where offshore energy exploration and development takes place, without infringing on military activities. And the Defense Department and Department of Interior also coordinate successful in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico. In the central Gulf of Mexico for example, 36 percent of current offshore leases are located within military planning areas. While military readiness must take top priority, a moratorium extension that precludes even the option of coordination between the relevant actors is an extreme response.
In addition to consumer benefits, lower oil and gas prices reduce the cost of Defense Department operations, saving resources that the Department could spend on other pressing needs – like protecting our troops overseas.
In 2010 and 2015 the Defense Department published compatibility reports analyzing offshore oil and gas leasing and military operations across the outer continental shelf. In the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Defense Department only recommended an outright ban on oil and gas activity on 11 percent of the area. Instead, it allowed for oil and gas exploration on 40 percent of the area with possible stipulations, and no permanent oil and gas surface structures on another 49 percent. As opposed to a blanket moratorium, the reports point to leeway for the Defense Department, the Interior Department and industry to find ways of pursuing natural resource development without infringing on military training needs.
Despite the rhetoric, Defense Department training and our energy security does not have to be a zero-sum decision. The relevant stakeholders within the Defense Department, including the different service branches should have a seat at the table as well. The Defense Department agrees. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, in a letter to DOI Secretary Zinke stated, “The Department of Defense supports the development of national domestic energy resources in concert with enabling military operations, training and testing.”
In addition to consumer benefits, lower oil and gas prices reduce the cost of Defense Department operations, saving resources that the Department could spend on other pressing needs – like protecting our troops overseas. In 2016 for example, U.S. federal government energy costs fell to their lowest point since 2004, because of low energy prices and the continued U.S. energy renaissance.
The Defense Department is by far the largest energy consumer in the government, representing 80 percent of all federal government energy consumption. Geopolitically, increased U.S. production relative to OPEC, Russia and other competitors hands the U.S. greater leverage in energy markets. Russia is currently the world’s largest oil producer, and has long used its energy dominance to expand its influence in Europe and coerce European governments.
An expanded U.S. role in energy markets has already helped, and can continue to help, provide European governments and other allies with other options, and boost U.S. clout in the face of geopolitical competition.
While Defense Department training and testing requirements must take priority, Congress should avoid blocking outright any potential for compatibility between military operations and offshore energy. Instead, particularly given technological advancements in offshore exploration, the energy industry and the Defense Department should be granted the option of exploring whether workable solutions might exist in these areas.
In an increasingly volatile global political environment, the best-case scenario for U.S. national security is the combination of military readiness with energy security. The U.S. should not limit the foreign policy tools it has at its disposal with a false choice between the two.