- The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a notice to lessees (NTL) Monday which lays out “voluntary protective measures” for a large swath of the Gulf of Mexico for offshore operations to expand protections for the Rice’s whale, a move which trade groups suggest could become permanent.
- If the rule becomes permanent, as some trade groups are predicting, it could result in increased vessel emissions, a decrease in safety on the water and diminished energy production in one of the U.S.’s most productive oil and gas regions, the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and the American Petroleum institute (API) assert.
- “By immediately establishing a restricted zone that spans the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico, BOEM would unilaterally erect an arbitrary barrier between vessel transit and offshore oil and gas operations,” stated a letter sent Monday by NOIA’s President, Erik Milito, and Beacon Offshore Energy’s COO, Joe Leimkuhler, to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a notice to lessees (NTL) Monday featuring suggestions to expand protections for the Rice’s whale across nearly 11 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico, a move which trade groups say could increase emissions, present safety hazards and diminish energy production.
The DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published the NTL after the Biden administration settled a lawsuit filed in 2020 by environmentalist groups, which alleged that the agency had inadequately assessed the risks posed to Rice’s whales by drilling activity. The NTL sets forth “voluntary protective measures” including vessel speed restrictions, limitations on nighttime travel, record-keeping requirements and mandatory minimum separations from potential Rice’s whales in the affected area, stipulations that could reduce economic productivity, increase emissions and pose possible safety hazards, according to the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA).
“The federal government is moving forward to expand these protections to other ocean users and industries through the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Rice’s whale,” a NOIA spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
One indication that the government intends to finalize the “voluntary” suggestions as requirements is the emphasis on detailed record-keeping, the NOIA spokesperson told the DCNF. Since corporate attorneys often do not like to go against recommendations, the record-keeping suggestion creates a new paper trail as to why a given company makes a decision, and the government seems inclined to have a record of a company’s rationale for a given decision.
The “voluntary protective measures” are nominally temporary, but they could become final requirements for all users once the affected zone, which is nearly 11 million acres, is sold as a lease later this year, the NOIA spokesperson told the DCNF. If the measures become final, they could severely diminish the amount of time available to operators to transit from far offshore into Gulf ports by up to 50%, according to an American Petroleum Institute press release issued Monday.
“By immediately establishing a restricted zone that spans the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico, BOEM would unilaterally erect an arbitrary barrier between vessel transit and offshore oil and gas operations,” stated a letter sent Monday by NOIA’s President, Erik Milito, and Beacon Offshore Energy’s COO, Joe Leimkuhler, to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The diminished transit window would cause more congestion, with the same amount of vessels trying to transit the affected zone in a fraction of the time, which in turn increases the risks of incidents like vessel collisions, according to NOIA’s letter. Additionally, as ships wait outside the designated speed reduction zones for the right time of day to arrive, they will be burning more fuel and releasing more emissions than they otherwise would.
“We have serious concerns that the department has not adequately— if at all— engaged offshore safety professionals or safety enforcement agencies to assess and manage potential safety risks,” the letter states. “Importantly, these adverse consequences are likely to accrue without any appreciable benefit to the conservation of the Rice’s whale.”
Beyond the safety and emissions issues, the step towards making these stipulations final also threatens to reduce American energy productivity at a time when international oil prices are rising and per-gallon prices at the pump for U.S. consumers are quietly approaching $4.
“Today’s notice from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is yet another example of the Biden administration working to restrict American energy, which could lead to higher energy costs and weaken U.S. security,” said Holly Hopkins, API’s vice president of Upstream Policy, according to API’s press release. “The recommended actions are not justified by existing data nor operational experience, would impose significant burdens on the men and women currently working in the region, and unfairly single out oil and gas traffic in an area that is one of the most used maritime areas in U.S. waters.”
Offshore oil production in federally-controlled Gulf waters accounted for about 15% of total U.S. crude oil output in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. As the Gulf of Mexico’s oil is considered less carbon-intensive to produce than oil from most other regions, diminished production in the affected zone could be replaced by more carbon-intensive barrels from elsewhere in the world, the API press release asserted.
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