Offshore drilling is incompatible with military missions in Gulf of Mexico
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called offshore drilling "incompatible" with military training and weapons testing
in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida's shores in a letter to US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner.
The letter is a major development in the offshore drilling debate, US Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. said. Nelson had asked
Warner, R-Va., to seek the Pentagon's view.
"It is a clear signal to drilling proponents to stop," Nelson said. "This is what we needed in our constant battle with the oil industry."
Rumsfeld refers in the letter to a "Military Mission Line" that extends south from a point in the Florida Panhandle
near Fort Walton Beach. That would put the line 234 miles west of Tampa Bay.
"In those areas east of the Military Mission Line, drilling structures and associated development would be incompatible with military activities, such as missile flights, low-flying drone aircraft, weapons testing and training," Rumsfeld wrote.
Some in Congress have proposed that natural gas drilling be allowed as close as 20 miles from the shores of Florida
and other coastal states. Other proposals have set distances of 125 miles or 150 miles for oil and gas exploration
Such legislation would lift existing congressional and presidential moratoriums on offshore drilling that extend to well beyond 200 miles from Florida's beaches. The proposals also would conflict with the Military Mission Line.
Rumsfeld wrote that military activities east of the line "are especially critical" to the Defence Department. Eglin
Air Force Base in the Panhandle oversees the gulf ranges, but they also are used by other military installations and
Rumsfeld wrote that the Defence Department would evaluate its requirements and work with the Interior Department to "strike a proper balance between our nation's energy and national security goals."
Nelson said that meant the Pentagon may push to move the line, established more than 20 years ago, farther west. New
aircraft fly faster and the latest weapons have longer ranges, which means they need more space for testing and
training, Nelson said.
Pressure to expand offshore drilling has grown in Congress since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita temporarily curtailed fuel supplies and raised prices.
In another development, state Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Miramar, said he would introduce a proposed state constitutional
amendment that would require a state-wide referendum to permit drilling in federal waters off Florida if Congress
gives states that power.
Gottlieb said he plans to introduce the proposed amendment for the 2006 regular legislative session but also will offer it during a special session. His proposal is in reaction to the measures Congress is considering to give state legislatures and governors control over drilling in federal waters.
One such proposal was removed from a budget reconciliation bill in the US House after drawing opposition from many
members of Florida's congressional delegation, including Nelson and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and all House
Democrats. It had been endorsed, however, by Gov. Jeb Bush and many Florida Republicans in the US House.
Bush touted it as a compromise that would give Florida lasting protection against drilling. Opponents said it would be the first step toward bringing drilling pollution and oil spills closer to beaches vital to Florida's tourism industry.
The congressional compromise may be reintroduced as a stand-alone bill.
Meanwhile, a separately filed federal bill would allow drilling for natural gas as close as 20 miles from shore without any way for states to stop it.