National Co-Chair Sen. Jim Webb Discusses How U.S. Offshore Exploration Is Critical to National Security

Virginia Pilot: Jim Webb-U.S. energy boom improves national security

Originally Published on September 28, 2018

By Jim Webb

WHEN A GLOBAL military crisis occurs, one of the first questions is, “Where are the aircraft carriers?” And when an energy crisis hits us here at home it is often, “Where is the oil?”

The answer to both questions depends on careful planning that anticipates future needs. It takes about 10 years to move next-generation aircraft carriers from the drawing boards through the approval processes to actual deployment in potentially hostile environments. Not coincidentally, it takes about 10 years to research, gain approvals and deliver to market the oil and gas products that will service America’s energy needs.

Both of these processes must continue to succeed for our country to remain the strongest in the world, economically, militarily and technologically. Energy wealth and national security go together. An “all-of-the-above” energy policy — including renewables — is important, but natural gas and oil are essential. Government projections show that even under optimistic scenarios for renewables, natural gas and oil will supply about 60 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2040.

We now are the world’s leading producer and refiner of natural gas and oil, and have a distinct advantage in the face of increasing global energy demand. U.S. crude oil production has reached record highs of 10.7 million barrels per day, just as world oil demand has reached a new record of 100 million barrels per day. From 2016 to 2017, the United States increased its number of crude oil export destinations from 27 to 37 countries — supporting jobs and economic growth in communities across the nation.

Energy unites economic and national security priorities in a way few other issues do. Our strong position with natural gas exports helps diversify European options with respect to energy imports from Russia. Our energy exports — both natural gas and crude oil — provide options against potential adversaries whose economies are based disproportionately on energy wealth. China, a strategic competitor and now the world’s largest net importer of petroleum, must rely on U.S. energy for a growing share of its market.

The U.S. energy boom has also allowed the United States to put increased pressure on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The rise of U.S. energy has added stability to global markets, reducing OPEC’s power and undercutting its efforts to restrict energy supplies and maintain higher prices. The free market of our energy sector also makes U.S. companies more innovative and flexible in adjusting to low prices — a major advantage over OPEC countries, which are usually dominated by national oil companies.

On the home front, increased energy production directly benefits the military. Our military is the largest single fuel buyer in the country. It also spends considerable money and effort protecting global energy routes. Increased U.S. energy production here at home gives our military greater flexibility in its larger global presence.

Many military members re-entering civilian life find the energy industry ready to hire them. Technical and managerial skills gained through military service provide a smooth transition into the natural gas and oil industry. According to global analytics firm IHS, 1.3 million jobs could be added in the oil and gas industry by 2030. The petroleum sector on average employs a higher percentage of veterans compared to the economy as a whole, and makes a concerted effort to recruit veterans through initiatives such as the Veterans Energy Pipeline.

The United States can increase these advantages through renewed emphasis on safe and technologically advanced offshore exploration, which is increasingly in use throughout the world. Ninety-four percent of federal offshore acreage is currently off limits to energy development. The Trump administration’s National Offshore Leasing Program for 2019-2024 would change that by opening key areas off the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Recent advances in safety solutions, plus improvements in business practices and tighter government standards, guarantee that offshore exploration can be safe, targeted and productive.

The technical process of exploring offshore energy reserves would be the first step in a careful process conducted with safety measures that will protect America’s beaches, ecology and maritime necessities. It offers an opportunity to solidify our place as a global energy power and to guarantee energy independence at home.

It is time to begin that discussion. Ten years from now, we will be glad we did so.

Jim Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, was a U.S. senator from Virginia. He is a national co-chairman for Explore Offshore USA, a project of the American Petroleum Institute.

Jim Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, was a U.S. senator from Virginia. He is a national co-chairman for Explore Offshore USA, a project of the American Petroleum Institute.