Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Development Drives US Energy and National Security

Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Development Drives US Energy and National Security
Bruce Chambers /The Orange County Register via AP, File

Energy is the driving force for growth and quality of life in every nation, large and small. National security depends on it. Wars have been fought over it. A nation cannot reach or sustain its potential without large-scale access to it. Domestic energy production fills these needs and is a key contributor to a healthy economy. And there are few levers more powerful for a nation’s international position than energy independence.

America’s strategic position has improved in recent years due to an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. But we remain vulnerable in an expanding global economy marked by ever-growing energy needs and potentially troublesome energy alliances, such as Russia’s recent accord with OPEC, that have the potential to manipulate the flow of oil.

It is also undeniable that for the foreseeable future, oil and natural gas will be the greatest drivers of the world’s economies. Here at home, oil and gas are expected to generate over 60 percent of America’s energy for at least the next 30 years, even with the welcome use of renewables continuing to be on the rise.

That said, it is time to correct an oversight in America’s move toward an "all-of-the-above" energy policy: the unnecessarily restrictive approach to the exploration and safe development of oil and natural gas resources that lie offshore.

Offshore oil production is growing around the world, accounting for 25 percent of the world’s crude supply of around 99 million barrels a day. Just in recent years, major offshore discoveries have occurred in Brazil, Guyana, the North Sea, Cyprus, and Mexico. At the same time, due to environmental concerns in the past, our national policies have failed to adjust to the significant advances in exploration, drilling technology, and safety measures that would allow us to conduct research and safely explore and develop all of our existing domestic oil and natural gas resources — including those that lie offshore.

As an example, 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the United States is currently off-limits to offshore exploration and development. The last time a lease auction was held in the U.S. areas of the Atlantic Ocean was 1984. Just imagine the gains in exploration techniques, drilling technology, and overall safety that have been made since then. It has been more than three decades since we have had the opportunity even to explore and analyze what resources lie in these areas.

The administration’s recent announcement of a National Offshore Leasing Plan to explore and develop the OCS gives us an opportunity to debate and decide how offshore drilling can contribute to our energy future. This is why we have come together to co-chair a newly launched bipartisan coalition — Explore Offshore — dedicated to advancing the responsible exploration and development of offshore oil and natural gas resources through always advancing technologies.

This diverse coalition is made up of community organizations, associations, businesses, and local leaders in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida who support increased access to American oil and natural gas.

Currently, the United States is one of the only countries along the Atlantic that is not actively exploring for energy in those waters. Nations both near and far, many with fewer resources and far less stringent environmental regulations, are adopting policies that allow them to proceed with offshore development. But the United States remains at a standstill.

This has very serious implications. As the Washington Post opined earlier this year, “As long as the economy requires oil, it must come from somewhere, and better the United States than a country with much weaker environmental oversight.” In fact, because of current U.S. policy, major energy investments are moving to countries like Mexico, where regulations could lag even farther behind ours. Over the last four years, as we have debated whether to open up carefully selected new areas for exploration on our side of the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico has leased over 20 million new acres on its side. The country's total acreage leased in the Gulf is now over 30 million acres, double that of the U.S.’s 14.7 million.

As our demand for reliable and affordable energy continues to grow, the long-term question is, whether we will have the national foresight and courage to attain our energy independence. Oil and gas production requires years of research, negotiations, and planning. In the United States, our strict environmental and safety policies have improved significantly even in just the past few years, with the industry incorporating the most advanced safety systems, including infrared gas detection sensors, fiber optics, remote monitoring, and drones to ensure safety around the clock. This cannot be said for other countries with far less regard for such concerns and procedures.

We both have military backgrounds. One of us was Secretary of the Navy, the other Secretary of Veterans Affairs. We both saw extensive combat in Vietnam. And we both strongly agree that a nation must first be energy secure in order to be truly secure.

Offshore energy production will greatly benefit American workers, veterans, and the U.S. economy. It is estimated that opening up the entire Atlantic OCS could support nearly 265,000 new higher paying jobs, $22 billion per year in private investment, and generate almost $6 billion in new revenue for the government within 20 years of initial lease sales. Jobs in the oil and natural gas exploration and development fields come with an average salary of $116,000 — more than double the national average. These jobs, which do not require college degrees, provide important opportunities for our fellow Americans, including veterans who are reentering the work force at a very fast rate. A recent study also found that nearly 40 percent of the estimated 1.9 million job opportunities projected in the oil, natural gas, and petrochemical industries by 2035 will be filled by women and minorities.

This is a much-needed, commonsense step for America’s energy future. America must make safe and full use of all of its energy resources for our economy and for our national security — and much of that energy is offshore.

Jim Webb is Former Secretary of the Navy and former Democratic Virginia Senator. Jim Nicholson is Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. They are National Chairs of Explore Offshore.

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