On January 11, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the beginning of a scoping period to prepare a draft environmental assessment (Draft EA) for the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Call Area to assess potential impacts associated with offshore wind leasing. The area includes approximately 30 million acres of federal lands on the outer continental shelf (OCS) in the GOM, and covers areas in what is commonly known as the Western and Central Planning Areas of the GOM. This is the same area described in the Call for Information and Nominations published in the Federal Register on November 1, 2021. Comments will be received through February 9, 2022. BOEM anticipates completing the Draft EA this summer.
Based upon the comments received from stakeholders, BOEM ultimately anticipates developing Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) for subsequent commercial offshore wind leasing and development. Accordingly, any stakeholders with current interests in the GOM should be prepared to submit comments on how these activities may impact any existing or anticipated activities in the GOM. In addition, stakeholders who may be interested in seeking commercial offshore wind potential in the Call Area should also provide comments.
The Draft EA will evaluate site assessment and characterization activities associated with the possible wind energy leasing in the Call Area. These activities could include surveys of archeological, biological, geological, and geophysical resources in the area; core samples; the installation of meteorological towers and buoys; and vessel trips associated with these activities. In addition, the analysis developed in the Draft EA will inform subsequent offshore wind lease auctions, including the identification of potential areas for later leasing.
Stakeholders and potential parties wanting to comment should understand that the Draft EA will not evaluate specific projects, such as project layouts and cable routes. Project specific analysis will be conducted as part of an environmental impact statement (EIS) developed later, which will include separate public participation processes and opportunities to comment.
It is also important to highlight that OCS renewable energy leases do not authorize any OCS activity, but instead only grant a lessee the exclusive right to submit plans for BOEM’s consideration. Leasing marks the beginning of a multi-year process that would provide additional opportunities for stakeholder participation. A successful lessee would need to submit a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) within the first year after lease issuance. The SAP would describe the initial activities necessary to assess siting a project within the lease area for commercial offshore wind development and the potential impacts of those proposed activities. Only after BOEM approval of the SAP could a lessee begin activities assessing the site. A lessee would also need to submit a Construction and Operation Plan (COP) for BOEM approval, which would detail the construction and operation of the wind energy project on the lease. BOEM would then conduct additional environmental and technical reviews of the COP in deciding whether it could be approved, and construction could begin.
BOEM is hosting sector-specific fisheries workshops open to the public from January 19-20, 2022, discussing WEA development in the GOM. While these workshops may benefit stakeholders in relevant industries, it is critical that parties with significant GOM operations, or seeking such operations, provide strategic comments before the February 9, 2022 deadline.