Trump says no drilling in eastern Gulf of Mexico
TAMPA — In what may turn out to be good news for efforts to keep oil and gas exploration out of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, to protect both the environment and a military test range that spans the area, President Donald Trump is on record saying that there won’t be any drilling in the area.
Speaking exclusively with Spectrum News, a Charter Communications cable news product, after stepping off of Air Force One in Tampa on Saturday, Trump alluded to an order he said he had put out some time ago on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Trump was responding to this question from Holly Gregory of Spectrum News, who asked: “And you know how important our coast is and tourism. Would you be willing to commit to no drilling in the eastern Gulf? You know the situation with that.”
Trump responded, “Well, we’re not gonna be drilling, and I’ve already put out that order — actually quite a while ago. But we can’t do that. And the people of Florida just don’t want it. You know, there are some states that don’t mind it, but Florida does. And I live here too, and I vote here. And I will tell you that’s not going to be happening.”
Trump’s position is bolstered by a Wall Street Journal story from last year, in which U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said that a Trump administration proposal to vastly expand offshore oil and gas drilling had been shelved indefinitely.
That story was, though, countered earlier this year by Politico, a political news organization, which reported that the Trump administration was preparing to open up oil and gas exploration off the Florida coast.
Citing “four people familiar with the plan,” Politico reported that the Trump administration would wait until after the November election to avoid any political consequences.
Bernhardt immediately took issue with the story, and in an email to newspapers, including the Daily News, who mentioned the Politico story in their coverage of offshore oil and gas exploration, Bernhardt’s press secretary, Ben Goldey, wrote, “We refute this story and its anonymous sources. There has been no change regarding this issue since the Secretary’s interview with the Wall Street Journal in April of 2019 nor is the Department planning to issue the report right after the election.”
Nonetheless, legislative efforts to extend the current moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, set to expire on June 30, 2022, have continued, albeit with little success thus far.
The U.S. House of Representatives, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose district covers the northwestern end of the state, approved a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in September of last year, but the initiative failed in the U.S. Senate.
Gaetz, a staunch supporter of President Trump, was not immediately available Wednesday to comment on the president’s interview with Spectrum News. Gaetz has long noted the incompatibility of oil and gas exploration with munitions testing.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, efforts by both of Florida’s senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, to at least extend the moratorium for some number of years, have not succeeded.
Scott, however, did manage to get a provision included in the Senate version of the federal defense spending and policy bill for the upcoming fiscal year calling on the Department of Defense to issue a report on the importance of the Gulf Test Range.
The range, covering 122,000 square miles of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, provides space for munitions testing and training activities for the U.S. military services.
As noted in a report from the Florida Defense Support Task Force, a state-mandated council that works to “preserve, protect, and enhance Florida’s military missions and installations,” the Gulf Test Range “is the only test range in the continental United States large enough to accommodate a full-range test flight (Key West to Eglin AFB) of hypersonic missile components.”
Hypersonic missiles, next-generation weapons now under development across the U.S. military, with Eglin Air Force Base playing a central role, are capable of speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, and also are being pursued by China and Russia.
Among the environmental groups working to halt the expansion of oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is Oceana, a nonpofit ocean conservation group.
In a prepared statement on the Spectrum New interview, Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said, “It’s refreshing to hear President Trump acknowledge the overwhelming opposition to offshore drilling for the first time.”
But, she added, “While President Trump's remarks are encouraging, they are a far cry from any official protections that would prevent the expansion of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. ... Will President Trump give other states that oppose offshore drilling the same assurances? ... .”