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Guest Commentary: Protect the Military Mission Line from offshore drilling
January 2, 2019

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As the 116th Congress begins, the Florida delegation should unite to stop offshore drilling off the Gulf coast of Florida and must push Congress to enact legislation to make the moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOM), eastward from the Military Mission Line (MML) at Long. 86 deg, 41 min., permanent. The MML was established by the 2006 GOMESA law to delineate the military testing area as being off limits to oil exploration. This moratorium will expire in June 2022 unless extended and it is rumored that the Department of Interior would like to permit seismic testing in this area. There is no rationale for seismic unless they expect to lease for drilling after June 2022.

Our Florida economy depends on tourism and a large military presence. Any potential, however remote or speculative, for the kinds of environmental damage we have seen take place in the other areas where drilling and production have been allowed will be devastating for our economy, environment and our future in Florida. There are plenty of places marketing for tourists where there is no risk of offshore drilling and we have to compete with them. Aside from the immediate existential risk of a large, multi-million barrel spill like Deepwater Horizon, there are numerous spills going on right now throughout the middle and western Gulf. One, the Taylor spill, has been discharging oil and chemicals into the Gulf offshore of Louisiana since 2004 and has released between 1.5 to 3.5 million barrels of oil in that period.

Additionally, we have a clockwise current in the near offshore Gulf, running right through one of the areas thought to have oil and gas, the Destin Dome. This current assures that any pollutants introduced into the Gulf off our north and west coasts will flow all the way down the coast across Florida Bay to the Keys.

Aside from risks to our tourism-based economy, our strong military presence throughout Florida needs the east central Gulf, east of the MML (this is why it was a military demarcation in the first place) for their exclusive use for testing, free of drilling rigs, platforms and supply vessel traffic. As the May 2018 Department of Defense report "Preserving Military Readiness in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico" clearly shows, the military is planning to increase testing out in the EGOM in the future: (Please see the map at right.)

In one of its most poignant references, the Department of Defense called the eastern Gulf of Mexico an "irreplaceable national asset" for combat force readiness and for accomplishing the goals of the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The MML creates a large-scale, flexible and irreplaceable training ground for our development of our leading defense technologies. The growing threat assessment of security risks in the Arabian Gulf region make this training all the more important. The report notes several times that the proximity to major military bases and its large-scale make the EGOM area a unique asset for national defense that cannot be replicated. It is important to mention the over $70 billion in economic impact Florida's military bases have on our state, according to research by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Lastly, the people of Florida are clearly opposed to offshore drilling. The November 2018 ballot contained a ban on offshore drilling, Amendment 9, which won with over 68 percent in favor. This widespread support should indicate to the entire Florida delegation, members of both parties and both chambers, that voters are overwhelmingly against letting the moratorium expire in 2022. Floridians are well aware that all of our livelihoods depend on a pristine environment, and that offshore drilling in the Gulf threatens our futures.

As 2019 begins and the 116th Congress begins, we want to ensure our constituents that we will continue to fight to permanently ban offshore drilling off our coast.

- Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida's 19th congressional district. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

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