Editor’s Note: For an alternative viewpoint, please see: Counterpoint: Expanding Offshore Drilling Is Dangerous and Unwise
Offshore development plays a critical role in U.S. energy security, supplying more than 1 million barrels of oil per day for the last 20 years. And that’s with 94 percent of federal offshore acreage closed to exploration. Imagine how much more natural gas and oil we could develop if additional coastal resources were accessible.
If the Trump administration’s proposed offshore expansion becomes reality, we won’t have to imagine. The estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas awaiting discovery on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf could be recovered and injected into our economy. Opening additional areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic could generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and lead to production gains of more than a million barrels of oil equivalent per day — further reducing supply from overseas sources.
Critics are portraying the Interior Department’s proposal to make additional offshore areas available for leasing as unique. In reality, it’s keeping offshore resources locked away that makes the United States an outlier. China and Russia are active in the Arctic, and nations like Canada, Brazil, Cuba, the Bahamas and Nigeria are all moving forward with offshore exploration in the Atlantic — while our own Atlantic energy potential is sidelined.
It’s been more than 30 years since the U.S. has conducted seismic research — which helps locate offshore resources — in the Atlantic. With today’s cutting-edge exploration technology and advanced production methods, resource potential in the Atlantic could be even more abundant than estimated. When modern technology was deployed in the Gulf of Mexico, the true amount of recoverable oil resources was revised upward by almost 40 billion barrels compared to calculations made in 1987.
Technological innovations have also advanced offshore safety. In fact, offshore development is safer than ever thanks to those advances, combined with rigorous safety standards. After the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon incident, the industry coordinated with federal regulators to launch a comprehensive safety review. More than 100 industry standards were created or strengthened to improve safety and environmental performance, and we launched the Center for Offshore Safety to ensure continual safety improvements and systematic monitoring.
Decades of energy development in the central Gulf of Mexico, near thriving ports and active military bases, confirm that operations can safely coexist with military activity. Under longstanding practice, the Department of Defense coordinates with the Interior Department to ensure that energy activities follow any necessary stipulations. That same coordination will be just as effective in the eastern Gulf and in the Atlantic.
Previous Pentagon assessments found that energy development would be compatible with military operations in 89 percent of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and 95 percent of the Atlantic, albeit with some restrictions on permanent surface structures. The point is that the Defense Department takes the lead in determining guidelines for energy development near its operations, and we should keep all options on the table while that process plays out in the planning phase.
Energy development also safely coexists with tourism and fishing industries. Just ask people who would know: Gulf Coast officials. Citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy notes that “roughly half of the jobs in commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf exist in states where there is also oil and gas production.”
The sentiment is bipartisan. As longtime, former Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu stated in 2017 congressional testimony: “You can have a coast that is a working coast for fisheries, commercial, recreation, eco-tourism, barges, ships, tourism, hotels — we have it all.” It’s noteworthy that the most vocal support for offshore energy comes from states where it’s actually underway.
Although the United States leads the world in production and refining of natural gas and oil today — delivering major economic benefits to consumers and manufacturers — energy policy must be focused on tomorrow. Government projections show natural gas and oil will supply an estimated 60 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2040, and worldwide energy demand will jump almost 30 percent in the coming decades. Eighty percent of U.S. voters support increased domestic natural gas and oil production, and responsible offshore development represents one of the best untapped opportunities to safeguard future energy security.