Environmental group Oceana is working with economic developers to extend the Gulf moratorium on oil and gas

FORT LAUDERDALE — It may seem strange at first glance, but environmental group Oceana is happy to work with economic development professionals and U.S. military supporters in a broad effort to extend or make permanent a moratorium on oil and gas. exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

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The current moratorium is set to expire on June 30, 2022, but legislative efforts to extend the ban or make it permanent are underway in Congress. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a permanent moratorium, but the Senate did not follow suit, a necessary step to put the issue on President Donald Trump’s desk.

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“We do our best to work with the best partners we can find,” said Hunter Miller, Florida Gulf Coast campaign organizer for Oceana, a nearly 20-year-old nonprofit focused on ocean conservation. .

Among Oceana’s latest partners is the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council’s Defense Support Initiatives team, which recently announced it has “partnered” with the environmental nonprofit. lucrative. Just a few weeks ago, members of the DSI team tuned into a virtual advocacy meeting hosted by Oceana.

While Oceana focuses on protecting the environment in and around the Gulf, the DSI team, along with other advocates for the military’s leading role in the region’s economy, is focusing on the Gulf of Eglin Testing and Training Area. The range, a 122,000 square mile area mostly over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, is used for weapons testing and a host of other military missions involving most of the US military services. The range is overseen by the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., successfully secured a requirement that the Department of Defense prepare a report on the significance of the test range in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the upcoming exercise.

Although Miller acknowledged on Tuesday that there are environmental concerns associated with the test range, he did not comment specifically on those impacts, except to note that they do not impose a particularly large burden.

Only a small percentage of munitions fired each year in the Gulf Test Range are live, and inert munitions are not considered to have any appreciable impact on marine life. Additionally, there are federal rules and regulations protecting marine life from munitions testing, and safety procedures keeping people out of areas where trials are taking place.

“I can still take my daughter fishing,” Miller said, noting the relatively limited environmental impact of the test range, and adding that any expansion of oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico would pose a significant set of issues. environmental as this industry has developed in the region.

“Where are they going to put the refineries?” Miller asked, suggesting that oil and gas exploration would drive the “commercialization” of the Gulf Coast, with local communities bearing the burdens and risks of hosting oil and gas industry activities.

This set of “terrible externalities”, as Miller called them, is one of the reasons why dozens of governing bodies of Gulf Coast communities – about 100 at last count – have passed resolutions in favor of an ongoing moratorium against oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf. from Mexico, Miller said.

In fact, Miller went on to say that in his defense of a moratorium on oil and gas exploration, “I have rarely, rarely come across anyone encouraged” about any economic development argument for an extensive oil and gas industry along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

And, Miller added, noting the broad support for an extended or permanent moratorium from groups as diverse as Oceana and Okaloosa County’s EDC, “I’ve never seen so much buy-in and agreement.” It is truly remarkable.

Miller said he was optimistic that an extension or even a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico could become a reality.

“We have this year and next year to do that,” he said.

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