Offshore Wind in the Gulf of Mexico: Holistic Project Approach Indicates Promising Opportunity
The following article is a guest post by Kristin Carman, PMP, REP – Offshore Project and Permit Manager DNV Energy USA, Inc.
Offshore wind (OSW) development in the Gulf of Mexico (the Gulf) is an opportunity that has, arguably, received less focus than East and West Coast prospects, and one which some in the industry surmise, developers may have difficulties creating a winning strategy for. However, the same can be said for any one of the Call Areas currently being evaluated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), as each region has unique factors that require consideration. A more holistic project approach indicates that the Gulf region may be among the most appealing in terms of costs, available maritime and industrial resources, and solutions for minimizing physical and environmental constraints.
The challenges. Wind energy potential is generally weaker in the Gulf than in other regions within the United States (US), and there are additional engineering solutions necessary to enable turbines to combat the intensity of hurricanes. The extensive Oil & Gas (O&G) infrastructure and sea bottom conditions can make siting and transmission routing more complicated; there are numerous active and abandoned pipelines within potential project areas, many of which have shifted due to the lack of structure within the seabed. In addition to these physical constraints, the Gulf hosts extensive vessel traffic and fishing activities, which is one of the primary reasons BOEM may consider implementing turbine spacing requirements for project design and layout .
Key elements of any infrastructure project subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process include assessment and mitigation of potential stakeholder and environmental impacts. Active stakeholder groups in the Gulf include fishing organizations and both Tribal and coastal communities while marine and avian populations known to migrate to the region influence the environmental concerns.
Recent events. In February of 2023, BOEM released the Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) announcing potential auction of three lease areas off the coasts of Louisiana (LA) and Texas (TX) and potential lease stipulations, prioritizing investment into local workforce training, domestic supply chain development, fishery protection, and community engagement .
During the April Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force (Gulf Task Force) Meeting, BOEM’s Regional Director stated that the Gulf states are workforce and port infrastructure ready, backed by over 70 years of offshore Oil & Gas (O&G) industry-related expertise . DNV’s observations confirm this based on project engagements related to early-stage planning, monitoring of federal and state regulatory frameworks and jurisdictions, and technical reviews of potential technological advancements (including storage and hydrogen opportunities) within the region.
Wind Resource, Cost, and Technology. According to the 2017 BOEM-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Study on the Gulf, the generating potential is nearly 510,000 megawatts (MW) of energy per year .
While larger rotors generate more electricity, wind project Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) typically increases with increased wind turbine generator (WTG) rating and decreased specific power density. A recent DNV study concluded that the range of WTGs from 12-20 MW are most optimal . The NREL also supported the use of the smaller, less costly WTGs, as their studies revealed that the shallow waters of the Gulf reduced the need for tall, more expensive models . Despite much interest in developing “bigger and better” turbines, currently available models are perfectly feasible and efficient for this region.
In terms of foundation types, the depth and bottom profile of the region is suited to support both fixed bottom and floating wind options; current BOEM lease areas are presumed to be sited with fixed bottom jacket or monopile foundation types given the water depths.
The risk of damage from hurricane winds is perhaps the greatest technological challenge, for which engineers are considering a variety of solutions, including the O&G Industry’s twisted jacket foundations or European concepts of towing large floating turbines into harbor during intense storms. Another option being researched and funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) includes development of downward or collapsible blades .
Workforce, Supply Chain and Port Capabilities. The Gulf region has a deep history in maritime industries, beginning in 1788 with significant whaling operations. Although whaling ended long ago, the industry spurred rapid port development and ship building capabilities – growth which still places the Gulf states at the forefront of national maritime operations. The Gulf workforce and its impressive maritime, fabrication, and O&G industry skill set is what truly sets this region apart from others; work being performed for the O&G industry is directly transferable to supporting construction and operation of OSW projects.
Additionally, two LA companies rooted in O&G and steel fabrication were enlisted to assist in the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm, and OSW foundations are generally modeled on offshore O&G technology. LM, a subsidiary of General Electric and Danish multinational wind turbine rotor blades manufacturer, owns and operates Wind Power’s New Orleans facility, the only wind engineering technology center in the US . Lastly, there is ample opportunity for port and industrial site “repurposing” along the Gulf Coast which could serve as fabrication and port centers for OSW projects, not only in the Gulf but in other US regions where the local manufacturing and port facilities are not as robust.
Stakeholder Engagement. BOEM has been actively engaging with stakeholder groups since 2021 through the Gulf Task Force and numerous Gulf-specific fishing conferences and meetings -. These platforms enable stakeholders – from state and federal regulatory agencies to Tribal communities, scientific research and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), fisheries, and local community members – to present concerns associated with OSW development, exchange information on ocean uses and resources, as well as facilitate collaboration .
Recent events in the Gulf also have shown signs of a more engaged and organized partnership between BOEM and Tribal nations in comparison to other regions , which is becoming increasingly important in the US. In January 2022, 11 Tribes were invited to discuss OSW leasing and planning in a government-to-government consultation with BOEM. Formal consultations (Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)) were initiated in July 2022 and although only one Tribe requested to become a consulting party, continued meetings and engagements have occurred in support of equality and understand of these project scopes and impacts.
Environmental Considerations. The Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf, also due to its rich maritime history, has been more heavily explored and developed than other regions posed for OSW development. Marine mammals and oceanic species surveys have occurred since the mid to late 1950s, extensively in the late 1970s, and have occurred annually since 2000 by respected organizations including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Texas A&M University . Additional pre-development surveys for O&G infrastructure and navigational surveys related to the shipping industry have also been extensively performed in the Gulf.
In short, dolphins and whales are diverse and well-established populations and, there are no porpoises, sea lions, fur seals, or true seals in the Gulf. There are documented protected species with year-round and seasonal uses of the coastal waters and shoreline areas including Giant Manta Ray, Rice’s whale, and numerous species of sea turtle (i.e., Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback and Loggerhead) . Time of year restrictions (ToY) for certain activities or protected shoreline zones will likely be established by both BOEM and state wildlife or coastal management agencies during permitting process . An example of this, based on spatial data shared during the recent Gulf Task Force meeting, includes potential April-June and October- November ToY restrictions to accommodate Giant Manta Ray activity proximate to LA and TX .
Regulatory and Permitting. BOEMs proactive approach to planning in the Gulf has allowed this region to better prepare for the upcoming auction and future project siting. A more thorough understanding of risks and constraints that may be faced by developers enabled extensive refinement of the initial Call Areas to the more feasible Wind Energy Areas (WEA), and ultimately, to the currently proposed lease areas. These consultations and studies, coupled with early engagement and working resolutions between organizations, has led to more advanced and thoughtful strategies than in other regions. This approach may prevent regulatory bottlenecks during the numerous, and often concurrent, agency reviews and consultations required by prospective developers under NEPA.
Concluding remarks. Although aspects of OSW planning, design, and viability are similar to other regions, there are many details that have yet to be worked out specific to OSW development in the Gulf. These range from determining the most suitable turbine foundation type, to design accommodations for the unique seabed and hurricane winds, to unknowns related to lease stipulations and environmental and permitting requirements.
However, the Gulf’s deep maritime history and offshore industrial expertise of its workforce, specifically manufacturing and fabrication capabilities, coupled with the existing port infrastructure, supports the necessary progression of the OSW industry’s domestic workforce and supply chain. Early engagements with stakeholders has facilitated mindful planning of the currently proposed lease areas. The volume of OSW projects already progressing through the BOEM-led NEPA review process has allowed for a more thorough understanding of the requirements, timelines, and likely requests of the regulators. The ample available data historically collected and analyzed for this region, from wind speeds to marine-based environmental studies, supported by the early stakeholder engagements, has eliminated numerous, and potentially significant project developmental constraints.
DNV has performed numerous OSW early-stage planning, feasibility, design assessment and advisory projects in the Gulf – opportunities which have provided unique insights and a thorough understanding of the constraints and risks most likely to be encountered.
As the auction approaches, an understanding of the technical and financial feasibility of a prospective project in the Gulf is essential. Longer-term, DNV can provide recommendations on the appropriate engineering designs, interconnection and transmission plans, stakeholder engagements, environmental studies, and how to navigate complex regulatory requirements.
 Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Biological Environmental Background Report for the Gulf of Mexico.
 BOEM. Gulf of Mexico Activities | Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (boem.gov).
 BOEM. Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force Meeting, BOEM’s Regional Director, Dr. Kendall. 11 April 2023.
 BOEM. FY 2022 Tribal Consultation Report. December 2022.
 BOEM. Strengthening the Task Force Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Forces. Strengthening-the-Task-Forces-Final- 4.2-(1).pdf (boem.gov). February 2018.
 Department of Energy (DOE). Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Wind Turbines in Extreme Weather: Solutions for Hurricane Resiliency | Department of Energy. FY 22 Tribal Consultation Report (boem.gov) January 2018.
 DNV. Optimal offshore wind turbine size and standardization study. May 2022.
 LM Wind Power. Technology Center Americas | LM Wind Power.
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Study on the Gulf of Mexico. Two NREL Studies Find Gulf of Mexico Well Positioned for Offshore Wind Development | News | NREL.
 Texas A&M University. Departments of Marine Biology and Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. College Station, TX, 77843.
 United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Endangered Species Act (ESA).