The United States (US) is currently embracing offshore wind farm (OWF) development as part of its expanding renewable energy generation objectives in response to renewables targets, financial incentives, and technological advancements. Expansion of the US offshore renewables industry was initially facilitated by amendments to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), made under Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) (2005), which granted authority for the leasing of offshore renewables developments to the Department of the Interior (DOI) and subsequently to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). In 2009, BOEM released its Renewable Energy Program Regulations (30 CFR 585) setting out the statutory framework within which the offshore renewables industry would be regulated and has subsequently disseminated rules and guidelines to further enable offshore renewables developments.
As well as the regulatory regime laid out by the EPAct Section 388, BOEM also considers the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. §4321-4347) (NEPA). This discusses the potential environmental consequences of federal actions, including detailed site specific environmental analyses that are typically needed to evaluate the likelihood and significance of impacts of proposed federal actions on physical, biological, and historic resources, societal values and socio-economic factors. The findings of the impact analyses are typically reported in an Environmental Assessment (EA) and/or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and made available for public consumption and scrutiny 1. Identification of the scope of issues to be reviewed and addressed in EA and EIS are commonly identified through extensive project scoping and consultation exercises with relevant agencies, stakeholders, and interested parties. These exercises also draw out the scale of the perceived concerns, the methods of the analyses to be used in EIS and the scope of supporting investigative studies.
With respect to offshore wind leasing, most of BOEM EAs to date have addressed only the installation of meteorological buoys or towers to gather wind resource data and conducting surveys to gather geotechnical and geophysical data. When BOEM receives construction and operations plans (COP) for the installation of wind facilities, BOEM will likely prepare EISs to analyze potential impacts. Additionally, there will be other NEPA analyses throughout the project. Determinations of NEPA adequacy (DNA), or Categorical Exclusions may also be used. Design changes and new information may require additional analyses throughout the life of the project.
For large infrastructure proposals within nascent industries with limited experience, consultations may be extensive and the level of perceived statutory and stakeholder concern may be substantial. This can result in the identification of a wide range of issues that are required to be addressed in sufficient depth and detail to provide the necessary knowledge, comfort, and precaution to underpin confident decision making. Applications for larger projects, such as OWFs, can therefore place a considerable burden on permitting authorities to undertake and complete environmental analyses and reviews and permit them to proceed in a timely and responsible fashion. This is particularly relevant in light of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations (40 CFR 1502.5) which calls for respective agencies to prepare EIS in a sufficiently timely fashion to enable findings to be used practically within the decision-making processes and to be available prior to that portion of public hearings relevant to impact statement.
In light of increased numbers of applications for offshore wind development and associated increases in case load, as well as the ambitions of the CEQ Regulations, BOEM has recognized the need to streamline the preparation, review and, analysis of associated environmental information required under NEPA.
To facilitate potential streamlining of the NEPA review processes, Fugro noted that substantial environmental analyses of large offshore wind projects have already been completed in Europe where commercial scale developments have been operating for approximately 20 years. These analyses have been undertaken as required by the European Union (EU) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive and which may be considered analogous to NEPA in terms of the broad environmental aims, sustainability aspirations and dissemination of conclusions among stakeholders and the wider public. In addition, many OWFs in Europe have been subject to environmental monitoring and research under the terms of their specific development licenses and in response to stakeholder concerns. This means that there is considerable empirical evidence available as to the actual environmental impacts of OWF construction and operation. Fugro considered that a systematic review and synthesis of these monitoring studies, where publicly available, may be appropriate to develop a robust evidence base to demonstrate consistent impacts for given receptors, conditions, geographic locations, and vulnerabilities and thereby help identify some elements that, in time, could be subject to reduced NEPA analysis or removed from repeated study entirely. This may be possible, for instance, where perceived concerns have not been realized following post-construction monitoring campaigns, or where impacts are consistently shown to be of minor or negligible significance. In particular, it may be possible to reduce certain aspects of planned activities, or environmental components, from the consideration of NEPA analysis where the following conditions exist:
- Precedent for impacts to be of minor or negligible significance;
- High confidence in the baseline environmental data;
- Receptor similarity of conditions;
- A robust design envelope; and
- Effective and agreed mitigation which can be conditioned within the final Construction and Operations Pl an (COP) approval.
Similarly, where adverse impacts have been successfully mitigated, evidence of that outcome can also be used to inform mitigation implementation. Conversely, where unanticipated adverse impacts have occurred, this data too could be used to ensure the future EIA include the necessary evaluation of these impacts. This document presents the findings of a systematic review and synthesis of European OWF monitoring campaigns and consolidates available impact and mitigation data with the intention of improving stakeholder understanding of comparable work done in Europe, reducing uncertainties associated with current state-of-the-practice knowledge in the US and identifying critical data gaps requiring further and more detailed study specific to US conditions