The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is charged with environmentally responsible management of federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) resources (e.g., oil and gas, sand and gravel, other mineral resources). The OCS includes the submerged lands, subsoil, and seabed, lying between the seaward extent of the states' jurisdiction and the seaward extent of federal jurisdiction. The seaward extent of state jurisdiction is mostly 3 nautical miles, although in Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida, it is 3 marine leagues (9 nautical miles) and in Louisiana it is 3 imperial nautical miles. Federal jurisdiction extends to the farthest of 200 nautical miles or, if the continental shelf can be shown to exceed 200 nautical miles, a distance not greater than a line 100 nautical miles from the 2,500-meter isobath or a line 350 nautical miles from the baseline.
Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 granted the Department of the Interior (Department) discretionary authority to issue leases, easements, or rights-of-way for activities on the OCS that produce or support production, transportation, or transmission of energy from sources other than oil and gas, and are not otherwise authorized by other applicable law. The Department delegated this authority to the MMS. Examples of the general types of alternative energy project activities that MMS has the discretion to authorize include, but are not limited to: wind energy, wave energy, ocean current energy, solar energy, and hydrogen production. The MMS was also delegated discretionary authority to issue leases, easements, or rights-of-way for other OCS project activities that make alternate use of existing OCS facilities for “energy-related purposes or for other authorized marine-related purposes,” to the extent such activities are not otherwise authorized by other applicable law. Such activities may include, but are not limited to: offshore aquaculture, research, education, recreation, and support for offshore operations and facilities.
Under this new responsibility, MMS is working to establish an MMS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program that will provide for sound multiple-use management of federal offshore lands for nontraditional energy and related uses. Alternative energy sources that could be developed on the OCS under MMS stewardship include wind, ocean wave, ocean current, solar, and hydrogen. Large-scale nearshore wind projects are already in operation internationally, and in the United States projects are in the preplanning and permitting stages. OCS project development is yet to be accomplished. In the OCS, ocean wave technology is deployed on a small, prototype scale at a few locations, but the technology is still in its infancy. Ocean current technology is based on tidal technology and is in the pre-planning stages. Solar and hydrogen technologies are still in the conceptual stage.