The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) amended Section 8 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (43 USC 1337) to give the Secretary of the Interior authority to issue a lease, easement, or right-of-way on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for activities that are not otherwise authorized by the OCSLA, or other applicable law, if those activities:
- Produce or support production, transportation, or transmission of energy from sources other than oil and gas; or
- Use, for energy-related purposes or other authorized marine-related purposes, facilities currently or previously used for activities authorized under the OCS Lands Act, except that any oil and gas energy-related uses shall not be authorized in areas in which oil and gas preleasing, leasing, and related activities are prohibited by a moratorium.
In addition, this subsection does not apply to any area on the OCS within the exterior boundaries of any unit of the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, or National Marine Sanctuary System, or any National Monument.
In response to this new authority, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI) is establishing an Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program on the OCS to approve and manage these potential activities. This programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examines the potential environmental consequences of implementing the program and will be used to establish initial measures to mitigate environmental consequences. As the program evolves and more is learned, the mitigation measures may be modified or new measures developed. Each project developed under this new program will be subject to environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and each project may have additional project-specific mitigation measures.
Given the rapidly evolving nature of this nascent industry, the MMS cannot reasonably anticipate and assess the potential environmental impacts of all of the various technologies and potential OCS locations where these alternative energy projects could someday be proposed. Accordingly, this EIS is focused on alternative energy technologies and areas on the OCS that industry has expressed a potential interest in and ability to develop or evaluate from 2007 to 2014. In general, the OCS begins 3 nautical miles (mi) off coastal shorelines and extends to about 200 nautical mi offshore, with depths ranging from a few meters to thousands of meters. Exceptions are offshore of Texas and Florida, where the OCS begins 9 nautical mi offshore. However, for the technologies being assessed within the time horizon for this EIS, development is expected to occur near the shore, where maximum water depth would be 100 meters (m) or less for wind and wave technologies and 500 m for ocean current technology (the only OCS area where ocean current technology is feasible for development is in the Florida Current, located off the eastern coast of North America). The analysis is, therefore, limited to the area defined by this water depth in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific regions.
For the purposes of this EIS, development of alternative energy sources around Hawaii is not analyzed for two reasons: (1) there is a steep drop-off of the OCS in waters beyond the 3 nautical mi State boundary, where depths easily exceed 100 m in most areas; and (2) almost all areas on the OCS with depths of less than 100 m are part of a national marine sanctuary and, therefore, are not under MMS jurisdiction. Development of alternative energy sources on the OCS in the Alaska region is also not evaluated at this time because of the relatively harsh environment and probability that no potential projects will be pursued in Federal waters.
The types of alternative energy projects that are analyzed in detail in this EIS are offshore wind, wave, and ocean current energy capture technologies. The MMS anticipates receiving applications for development of these technologies on the OCS over the next 5 to 7 years (i.e., 2007−2014). Solar energy capture technologies are not analyzed because the technology is not yet considered technologically and economically viable in the marine environment. Hydrogen energy storage technologies are considered unlikely to be demonstrated or developed in the offshore marine environment in the 5- to 7-year time frame based on the current available market for the product and technological considerations for development on the OCS. Tidal energy projects are also not analyzed, because these types of projects will be developed in areas very close to shore and outside the jurisdiction of the MMS.
The MMS also was given jurisdiction over other projects that make alternate use of existing oil and natural gas platforms in Federal waters. Alternate uses of existing facilities may include, but would not be limited to, alternative energy production, aquaculture, and research and monitoring. At this time, oil and gas structures are present only in OCS waters of the Gulf of Mexico and southern California (none are in the Atlantic). Therefore, alternate use of existing structures will be limited to facilities in the Gulf of Mexico and southern California over the next 5 to 7 years. The MMS will work closely with other agencies with relevant jurisdiction and/or expertise in addressing these alternate uses.