Posted on May 24, 2023
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is proposing the first offshore wind farm lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico.
The proposed sale is part of the leasing project announced by the DOI in 2021 with a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030.
BOEM began identifying areas in the Gulf of Mexico in late 2021, following findings from government studies that show the Gulf of Mexico’s shallow waters and proximity to oil and gas infrastructure make it promising for the expansion of a new offshore industry. According to their studies, these areas presented the fewest apparent environmental and user conflicts identified as Wind Energy Areas.
On February 23, BOEM published proposed lease areas including two WEAs totaling a combined 199,266 acres offshore Galveston and a 102,481 acre offshore Lake Charles, Louisiana. BOEM said the proposed areas have the potential to produce enough wind energy to power 1.3 million homes.
Commercial fishermen have opposed wind farms on the grounds of potential disruption of traditional fishing area divisions.
The Billfish Foundation said it is looking at how BOEM will establish and contribute to a fisheries compensatory mitigation fund or contributing to an existing fund to mitigate potential negative impacts to commercial and for-hire recreational fisheries caused by offshore wind development.
Existing artificial reefs were another concern. In a letter to BOEM, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sought to protect existing artificial reefs, saying the reefs should have a 1 nautical mile protective buffer.
Other criticisms include the wind farms’ killing of migratory birds. It has been estimated that wind turbines kill 1.17 million birds per year in the U.S. However, environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, still support the proposed wind farm.
BOEM claims the turbines will be located far enough offshore that they will kill few migrating birds, which do not drop in altitude on their flight across the Gulf until they near land.
The original proposals were larger in scope, upwards of 682,000 acres, and now are just under 200,000 acres, according to BOEM.
Some fishermen, mostly recreational, welcome the turbines, as long as they can get close to them, as the structures attract various fish species.
BOEM also said there are no plans for restrictions on fishing vessels from operating near the wind farms, and the structures will be designed with fishermen in mind. Each will be specially built with a rack be- neath, holding limestone rubble.