The future of alternative energy development in coastal US waters will likely become clearer at the end of March 2007, when a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled to be released.
The PEIS, required by the Energy Act of 2005, is being prepared by the Minerals Management Service and Argonne National Laboratory. Minerals Management Service: Nicolette Nye, 703-787-1011; OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Programmatic EIS Information Center.
The document, which is expected to be finalized in September 2007, following additional public comment, will influence the federal program that will review and regulate development of wind, wave, ocean current, solar, methane, and hydrogen energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. The PEIS will also address additional uses of offshore oil and natural gas platforms, and could affect liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. Many of these projects are already in various stages of planning and permitting, and, unless otherwise exempted, their site-specific approvals would be subject to the general stipulations of the federal plan.
Defenders of Wildlife's Richard Charter (707-875-2345), co-chair of the National OCS Coalition, says some of the most important issues the PEIS is expected to address include:
- ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS. Until now, there has been little scientific information on the effects these energy projects may have on animals, shorelines, the ocean floor, currents, sand movement, and other elements. Viable cost-benefit analyses are also lacking.
- JURISDICTIONAL ISSUES. MMS has been assigned the lead role by the Bush administration, despite an historically low level of knowledge about this field. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues to seek greater influence, as do coastal states.
- ROYALTIES. This could be a major issue, especially given recent allegations of MMS's failure to adequately collect oil and gas royalties. In addition, there is the question of determining royalties on public resources, such as wind and waves.
Charter says other environmental groups following offshore alternative energy issues include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Audubon Society, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Industry groups tied to each energy sector are also closely following developments.
For a glimpse of issues surrounding development of a project targeting one energy type, offshore wind, that is well advanced with its own EIS, see Dick Farley's Feb. 14, 2007, article in Cape Cod Today (published right before MMS postponed the release of the PEIS by amonth).