The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is preparing a draft environmental assessment (EA) for offshore wind activities in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where the government agency is looking to narrow the identified wider area before advancing any Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) for lease sales.
“The Gulf of Mexico is well-positioned to support a transition to a renewable energy future, as much of the infrastructure already exists to support offshore wind development in the region”, said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton. “BOEM’s Environmental Assessment is an important step to ensure that any development in the region is done responsibly and in a way that avoids, reduces, or mitigates potential impacts to the ocean and to ocean users”.
The area being reviewed in the EA is the same area for which BOEM published a Call for Information and Nominations on 1 November 2021, which covers almost 30 million acres (approximately 121,406 square kilometres) offshore Louisiana and Texas, just west of the Mississippi River to the Texas/Mexican border.
The agency will narrow the area based on stakeholder and ocean user input before advancing any offshore locations that appear most suitable for wind energy development.
BOEM said it was now preparing a draft EA in order to be able to respond to future needs of the states and opportunities as technology develops for deeper waters and lower wind speeds. The draft EA will consider potential environmental consequences of site characterisation activities (i.e., biological, archeological and geological, as well as geophysical surveys and core samples) and site assessment activities (i.e., installation of meteorological buoys) associated with the possibility of issuing wind energy leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Should a lease sale advance, prior to approving the construction of any offshore wind energy facility in the Gulf of Mexico, BOEM will develop an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the specific environmental consequences of any proposed project, in consultation with Tribes and appropriate federal, state, and local agencies, and with participation by stakeholders and the public”, BOEM said in a press release on 11 January.
BOEM’s announcement on starting the work on the draft EA follows a collaboration between local, state, federal, and Tribal governments to utilise the best available science and traditional knowledge to minimise conflicts between ocean uses, according to the agency, which said that these stakeholders comprise the Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force with which BOEM will continue to meet as the process moves forward.
The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force – a regional task force that includes Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas – was established after the State of Louisiana sent a request to BOEM for the establishment of an intergovernmental task force in November 2020.
The task force first met last June and is planning to meet again in early 2022, BOEM said.
In June last year, as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, the US Department of the Interior announced it would assess potential opportunities to advance offshore wind development on the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
The work started with BOEM publishing a Request for Interest (RFI) in the Federal Register on 11 June to assess interest in potential offshore wind development on the OCS. As part of the RFI process, BOEM convened the Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force to help coordinate planning, solicit feedback, and exchange scientific and process information.
Several months later, the agency published the Call for Information and Nominations to further assess commercial interest in wind energy leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Back in 2020, a study developed by BOEM and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that a 600 MW offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Mexico, with a commercial operation date of 2030, would bring some 4,470 jobs and USD 445 million in gross domestic product (GDP) during construction and an ongoing 150 jobs and USD 14 million annually from operation and maintenance labor, materials, and services.
The study did not include the likely further jobs or impacts in the Gulf of Mexico that may be created while supporting offshore wind projects built in other regions of the US, or the world.
At the beginning of the last year, a report called Offshore Wind for America stated that Texas alone had an offshore wind potential in the Gulf of Mexico that could provide the state with 166 per cent of its electricity needs.
In October 2021, the country’s Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced plans to organise up to seven new offshore wind lease sales by 2025, as part of the US goal of installing 30 GW by 2030. The government then said it expected to hold offshore wind auctions for Wind Energy Areas in the Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, Central Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico, as well as offshore the Carolinas, California, and Oregon.