When Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke announced plans to consider unlocking the energy America has offshore, he probably expected howls of outrage from the multimillionaires who live along the coast and politicians who represent them.
What he probably didn't expect, though, was the criticism from some military champions. They worry that more drilling could disrupt offshore training exercises and impact military preparedness.
Offshore drilling has long coexisted with military training. For years, oil exploration has occurred near military bases and seaports in the Gulf of Mexico without hampering operations or readiness. That's because the federal agencies involved, the Departments of Defense and Interior, carefully synchronize operations and set strict standards for safety.
In fact, studies conducted by the Department of Defense show that offshore drilling, with some restrictions on permanent structures, is compatible with military requirements for 89 percent of the surface area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and 95 percent of the Atlantic seaboard.
It's useful to remember why cultivating the natural resources in these waters is so important. Even with 94 percent of the areas off of America's coast closed, offshore exploration still delivers 1.6 million barrels of oil daily -- about 16 percent of total U.S. production.
The potential for opening more areas to drilling is vast. Current estimates point to 90 billion barrels of untapped oil offshore. President Donald J. Trump's plan to open these areas up to exploration will vastly increase America's own oil and gas inventory and continue to reduce U.S. reliance on overseas energy providers.
America is currently a leading global oil and natural gas producer, but competition from Russia and China is increasing. Russia and China are already exploring and drilling for oil in coastal waters without compromising military preparedness. There is no reason United States should fall even further behind.
The claim that offshore drilling endangers national security is curious to say the least. And it should not be used to deny Americans, especially in coastal regions, the additional benefits the gas and oil industry can bring to their communities. Opening the Atlantic and Pacific to oil exploration could increase domestic oil production by 3.5 million barrels a day and create 840,000 jobs. Such domestic job creation is exactly the type of activity politicians and the media criticize presidents for not creating enough of. This should make all of them happy.
And offshore energy, far from an obstacle to military preparedness, is an essential component of national security. By the Pentagon's own estimates, drilling is compatible with important training exercises. Arguing otherwise ignores the facts and jeopardizes America's foreign policy objectives.
For decades, the politicians and the media have been claiming that the US must get off of oil imports. Such reliance on those imports were blamed for US military operations in the Middle East. Between the fracking revolution and open ocean energy exploration, the day of US energy independence is drawing near. You would think politicians and the media would be happy to have within our grasp what they have always claimed that wanted: A secure America which is energy independent. Strange that they are not celebrating.
Michael James Barton is the founder of Hyatt Solutions and speaks around the country on energy and energy security matters. He previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon. This piece originally ran in the Houston Chronicle.