Pentagon not too positive on opening eastern GOM to oil & gas
Lifting the existing moratorium on oil and gas operations in the eastern Gulf of Mexico might have a negative effect on military drills and testing conducted in the area, unless mutual restrictions are agreed by the DoD and Department of Interior (DoI).
This is the main message of the report by Department of Defense’s Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Michael Griffin sent to the Committee of Natural Resources, and Committee on Armed Services.
In his report, he said that the eastern Gulf of Mexico, – the EGOMEX, as he puts it – is an irreplaceable national asset.
“No other area offers the DoD a comparable combination of airspace, water space, and existing infrastructure to support military activities…No other area in the world provides the U.S. military with ready access to a highly instrumented, network-connected, surrogate environment for military operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Indo-Pacific Theater.
“If oil and gas development were to extend east over the Military Mission Line (MML), without sufficient surface limiting stipulations and/or oil and gas activity restrictions mutually agreed by the DoD and Department of Interior (DoI), military flexibility in the region would be lost and test activities severely affected.”
According to the report, an increase in vessel traffic that would ensue should the oil development proceed in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, would significantly impact range clearance procedures needed for military operations.
When it comes to the long-range weapons testing the report says it requires relatively unfettered access to sparsely populated areas, large expanses of airspace, well instrumented ranges, logistics support, and uninterrupted electromagnetic spectrum in order to ensure public safety and support efficient data collection, performance evaluations, and operational concept maturation.
“Without sufficient surface limiting stipulations and/or oil and gas activity restrictions mutually agreed by the DoD and Dol, oil and gas activity east of the MML is incompatible with the weapon safety footprints required for these operations.”
The report said that safety footprints are currently achieved through scheduling to ensure that any known transient shipping has exited the safety zone. While this can cause inefficiencies in the timing of test events, it allows public use of the Gulf while sufficiently maintaining the required test capability, the report say.
“The presence of a platform; however, could negate our ability to effectively establish a weapon safety footprint in this manner. While some surface oil platforms can and sometimes do move, they move much more slowly than transient shipping, making this an unacceptable alternative. In addition, “hold harmless” agreements do not sufficiently mitigate for the presence of platforms in a weapons safety footprint, and the threat to platform personnel and the risk of an environmental catastrophe remain.”
Oil industry groups stay positive
While one might say the report and the DOD’s stance towards the potential oil and gas activity in the area is not overly positive, industry groups American Petroleum Institute (API), and National Offshore Industries Association (NOIA) have taken another angle of looking at the DoD report.
In a statement on Thursday API’s Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said the report “confirms that continued collaboration between the Department of Defense and Interior will enable the successful coexistence of continued military training and expanded American oil production.”
“The continued coordination between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense is an important aspect of Secretary Zinke’s National Offshore Leasing Plan and helps ensure that oil and natural gas offshore activities are done safely and responsibly in a manner that doesn’t interfere with U.S. military operations.”
“Allowing for expanded access of oil and natural gas operations in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) will benefit the U.S. economy, advance our long-term energy future, and bolster our national security as our reliance on foreign nations lessens,” Milito said.
NOIA issued a statement titled “welcoming the DOD” report.
NOIA President Randall Luthi said the report “not only provides a template for future coordination and consultation between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of the Interior (DOI), but also is a starting point for a productive and cooperative relationship between the offshore energy industry and DOD.”
“The report shows there is a lot of ocean out there and while there will be devils in the details, the overall message from the Pentagon should be interpreted as cooperation and coordination. In addition, as companies are allowed to explore and evaluate oil and natural gas plays, it is likely that areas of high potential will be more clearly defined and thus allow for additional military operations,” Luthi said.
“Military operations and energy development have co-existed and thrived in many areas in the Gulf of Mexico for decades under a 1983 Memorandum of Agreement between DOD and DOI, as evidenced by the roughly one-third of current Gulf leases including military training stipulations and restrictions,” he said.
You can download the full DoD report here:PDF
Offshore Energy Today Staff