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Dorgan, Military Officials to Release Pro-Drilling Report

A leading congressional proponent of offshore drilling is expected to take part in the release next week of a new report promoting further oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, including waters close to Florida.   

North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, who last year included a measure aimed at promoting drilling in federal waters 45 miles off Florida, is scheduled to speak in a Tuesday conference call detailing the potential benefit to “military readiness” stemming from more exploration.

Joining Dorgan on the call will be several retired, high-ranking Navy and Marine officers, and John Lehman, former Navy Secretary under President Reagan.

The call is being put together by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a non-profit pro-drilling organization urging national energy independence as a security and jobs-creating measure.

The show of military muscle – even of the retired variety – comes as the House’s effort to lift the state’s 20-year ban on oil-drilling within Florida waters drew further criticism from the commander of the Panhandle’s Eglin Air Force Base.

Col. Bruce McClintock, who leads the 5,400 personnel stationed at the base, this week told the House Military Affairs and Local Policy Committee that offshore drilling could prove an obstacle to flight testing and missile-firing exercises in the Gulf.

Military representatives in the past also have warned about potential interference to jet-flight training over the Gulf.

“We would be impacted,” Col. Arnie Bunch, vice-commander of Eglin Air Force Base’s Air Armament Center, told a state Senate committee last last year.

Dorgan, who recently announced he was not seeking re-election this fall, has clashed over drilling with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has long used military needs in the Gulf as a weapon against expanded oil- and gas-exploration.

“The military has been very clear on this issue,” Dan McLaughlin, a Nelson spokesman, told the News Service of Florida on Friday. “But I don’t know how SAFE can present this as something that will help the military.”

Dorgan has been a prominent figure on oil drilling, with North Dakota a major energy producer and the senator serving as the second-highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He also chairs a budget subcommittee that shapes Energy Department spending.

Along the Florida Gulf, 30 cities, counties, local chambers and other organizations have approved resolutions denouncing drilling – with critics rooted in some of Florida’s most conservative-leaning voting districts.

Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons, a former Democratic state legislator, said that like many Panhandle locales, his city’s resolution against drilling stems chiefly from fear of its potential impact on military missions from nearby Tyndall Air Force Base and Naval Support Activity-Panama City.

“It’s really a double whammy here,” Clemons said.

The state House has been pushing to keep the oil-drilling push alive in the face of resistance in the Senate, where President Jeff Atwater ordered a committee to conduct a wide-ranging review of the issue’s environmental impact, threatening prospects for the measure emerging during the spring session.

Florida Energy Associates, the group of self-described independent oil producers behind the idea, last week told the News Service it planned to shed two-thirds of the 30 lobbyists it has hired to work the issue. The downsizing is cast as a cost-saver that could be reversed when there are signs of movement within the Senate, the organization has said.

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