Offshore Energy: A Window Into America’s Economic and Strategic Future

Offshore Energy: A Window Into America’s Economic and Strategic Future
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The first months of the 116th Congress and the run-up to the 2020 election cycle have featured a dramatic leftward turn in the Democratic Party on a wide array of issues – including energy.  Some presidential aspirants have even signed on to support the so-called “Green New Deal,” which proposes to completely eliminate the use of natural gas and oil in the American economy within the next decade.

Many of us with long government experience who for years have called for a bipartisan “all of the above” approach to national and global energy solutions can only shake our heads in wonderment at this recent drift toward uncertainty.  In the real world, the global demand for all forms of energy continues to grow dramatically as the economies in emerging markets expand. Here at home reliable projections indicate that natural gas and oil will supply an estimated 60 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2040, even under optimistic scenarios for the development of renewables.  

Energy security is a key element in our health as a country. Decades of recent experience demonstrate unequivocally that the level of our country’s energy independence has a measurable impact on our national security interests, as well as the stability and predictability of our national economy.  

That’s why the five-year offshore leasing program coming soon from the Department of the Interior is so important.  Expanding natural gas and oil exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf is critical to protect our strategic and economic future, even as we rightfully explore other energy alternatives. 

Since 1984, government policies have restricted even basic exploration in 94 percent of the federal areas offshore from our coastline – and we emphasize far offshore, because much of the activity would take place far from our precious beaches and environmental havens. These areas could prove a treasure trove of natural gas and oil reserves.  As anyone typing on a computer or talking on a cell phone can attest, the technological world is not the same as it was in 1984. And yet offshore energy policy has remained frozen in the past, even as technology has become more sophisticated and industry safety standards have become more rigorous.  

Some opponents of offshore energy argue that it would interfere with our military operations, but nothing could be further from the truth. A long-standing framework of cooperation between the Interior Department and the Department of Defense demonstrates that military and energy operations are compatible missions. More importantly, increased domestic production of natural gas and oil will help to advance our national security goals, strengthening our position in the international arena. 

The rest of the world, from South America to Northern Europe to Africa, has moved forward to take advantage of natural gas and oil resources in their offshore regions. It’s time to “unfreeze” America from the archaic standards of the past, and to allow exploration that could unleash billions of dollars in added revenues to our federal and state governments, help bolster infrastructure and schools in local communities, add tens of thousands of jobs, and help guarantee our national security.  

The upcoming five-year offshore leasing program could open key areas for offshore natural gas and oil exploration and development, including the Atlantic, additional areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic. 

Florida alone could see more than 50,000 new jobs and nearly $4.5 billion per year in new revenue by opening additional areas in the Gulf of Mexico – which could be a game-changer for the entire Gulf region. Florida depends on reliable and affordable energy to power its bustling tourism industry, and offshore energy development could play a key role in making the state even more attractive to visitors. 

Despite the overblown political rhetoric calling for an abrupt end to natural gas and oil production, the foundations of our national energy policies depend on natural gas and oil. Modern technology and increased cooperation with government regulators have made such production far safer and cleaner than at any time in history.  

Unlike the policies of the world’s greatest polluters, including China and India, the U.S. has been a global leader in developing energy while protecting the environment. The administration’s five-year program for exploring offshore opportunities should fit into this model.  Rather than a retreat into the past, expanding offshore exploration will provide a safe and economically beneficial door to the future. Let us no longer stand down while our competitors develop their offshore energy to our strategic and economic detriment.

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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