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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held its third Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting on July 27, 2022 (3rd Meeting). The first two meetings were held on June 15, 2021, and February 2, 2022, respectively. The primary purpose of this meeting was to present the preliminary areas in Gulf of Mexico (GOM), recently identified by BOEM on July 20, 2022, that may be suitable for offshore wind energy development (WEAs), which are discussed in more detail in a previous blog. BOEM’s objectives of the 3rd Meeting included providing the Task Force with an overview of, and obtaining their feedback on, the WEAs and the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the GOM, also published on July 20, 2022, as well as providing opportunities for public input on topics being considered by the Task Force and other areas of concern.

Michelle Nannen (BOEM) began the discussion by providing an overview of the draft EA, highlighting various aspects of the analysis involved in its preparation.  The scope of the draft EA includes the entire 30-million-acre Call Area, as it is a programmatic assessment and may be used for more than 1 lease sale.  The analysis includes evaluations of the environmental impacts to resources in the GOM (including physical, biological and social resources) resulting from the issuance of a single wind energy lease as well as from the issuance of up to 18 wind energy leases and considers no more than 6-8 leases per lease sale.

Significantly, the draft EA analysis only takes into consideration the environmental impacts of (1) wind energy lease issuance, and (2) the associated site assessments and site characterization, which are the initial activities necessary to characterize a lease site (such as the placement of meteorological (met) buoys and geological and biological surveys).  It does not include any analysis of potential environmental impacts to GOM resources associated with a full-scale wind energy project, such as project layouts, cable routes, visual impacts, WEA identification, and project decommissioning.  According to Ms. Nannen, the analysis of these factors will be covered in a later phase, after a lease is obtained and a construction and operations plan for a specific project is submitted.

Based on comments received from the Task Force, BOEM estimated that the Galveston WEA would likely consist of three leases within the area while the Lake Charles WEA would likely consist of two leases.  As to the leases themselves, BOEM is currently developing GOM-specific lease stipulations and standard operating conditions through regulations and ongoing consultations with appropriate resource agencies.

Following Ms. Nannen’s presentation, Tershara Matthews (BOEM) provided an overview of the proposed WEAs and discussed how BOEM selected them based on competitive interest, the comments received in 2021 from the Request for Interest (RFI), and the Call for Information and Nominations (Call), among other factors.   During her presentation, Ms. Matthews highlighted some of the major comments received by BOEM from the RFI and Call that were taken into consideration, including protection of significant sediment resource areas, buffers for migratory birds, menhaden fisheries, rice whales, navigation fairways, and exclusion of certain shrimping areas and low-altitude training areas for the Department of Defense.

Task Force members were then given the opportunity to provide updates on their efforts in support of offshore wind energy development, which included recent legislation regarding coastal restoration and revenue sharing, and voice any areas of concern. Particular areas of concern included an emphasis on the need to approach this endeavor holistically, as opposed to in a piecemeal fashion as part of each individual project, and taking into consideration land use conflicts, electrical transmission infrastructure, and siting challenges, among other things.  In other words, the development of offshore wind energy projects in the GOM cannot be viewed in isolation from the development of other types of energy projects occurring (or to occur in the near future).

Other areas of concern raised by Task Force members throughout the 3rd Meeting included the development of safety standards for offshore wind, port access and growth, access to and use of sediment resources, conflicts with existing structures and pipelines (in both State and Federal waters), coastal restoration projects, and the realization of community benefits, among many others. In response to these concerns, BOEM confirmed that it is interested in a long-term, integrated approach and will continue to analyze and address these issues with the Task Force to create a sustainable wind industry.

The public comment periods for both the proposed WEAs and the draft EA began on July 20, 2022, and closes on August 19, 2022.  However, after several requests throughout the 3rd Meeting from Task Force members for an extension of the 30-day deadline to review and comment on the EA and WEAs, BOEM made clear that this was something they would take into consideration. Ultimately, for BOEM, the goal as of now is a GOM wind energy lease auction to take place in early 2023, although a concrete date was not given.

Once BOEM receives feedback on the proposed WEAs and the draft ES, the next steps include (1) publishing the WEA Identification Memo, (2) identifying the lease areas and auction format, and publishing the Proposed Sale Notice, subject to a 60 day comment period, (3) publishing the Final EA, (4) publishing the Final Sale Notice, and (5) holding the proposed lease auction.

The link, below, takes you to a July 20, 2022 Memorandum, prepared by Michael Celata, Regional Director for Gulf of Mexico Region, to Amanda Lefton, Director of BOEM, requesting her concurrence on the draft WEAs in order to obtain further stakeholder input on the proposed WEAs.  This Memorandum provides a highlevel overview of the information, and the analysis and rationale, BOEM used to develop its recommendations for the draft WEAs.

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