By Bruce Ritchie
TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday emphasized Pentagon opposition to Gulf oil drilling as an industry representative sought to downplay such concerns.
Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for a review of areas for possible new offshore oil drilling. The order offers discretion to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all areas of outer continental shelf, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Florida's northern Atlantic coast.
Nelson said he received on Monday (May 1) an April 26 letter from a Pentagon official to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz raising concerns about the effect on training missions in the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida, where there is a moratorium on drilling and related activities.
The letter was sent in response to a March 27 letter from Gaetz, a Republican from Shalimar, and other members of the congressional delegation raising concerns about the threat of drilling to military missions.
"The moratorium is essential for developing and sustaining our nation's future combat capabilities," wrote A.M. Kurta, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Kurta also wrote that the question had arisen whether the moratorium includes geological and geophysical survey activities. In comments from the Senate floor, Nelson said he will work with Republican and Democratic delegation members to clarify that issue.
Nelson said Florida can't stand drilling off its coast because of the threat to military training for the F-35 fighter and to Florida's tourism economy. Nelson recalled oil-coated Panhandle beaches following the 2010 BP oil spill hundreds of miles away.
"We can't suffer that kind of shock again," he said.
Earlier in the day, Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute told reporters on a conference call that the industry is working with military officials to ease concerns about drilling. He said his group will be encouraging the Department of Interior to include areas of the eastern Gulf of Mexico for drilling after the moratorium expires in 2022.
"These areas are very significant when it comes to domestic energy production," Milito said. "We're talking oil in the range of 1 million barrels a day to closer to 2 million barrels a day. That is a lot of energy that is making us more secure, both from an energy security standpoint and a national security standpoint."
Also Monday, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced legislation they said would extend by five years a ban on oil drilling off much of Florida's Gulf coast until 2027. That follows Nelson joining other senators last week in filing similar legislation.
"Florida's beaches are vital to our economy and way of life," Buchanan said in a news release. "Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean."