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Gulf of Mexico: The Wind of Change

The Biden–Harris administration is continuing its comprehensive review of the offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programmes in the Gulf of Mexico, with more environmental, social and governance (ESG) pressure expected to be applied on hydrocarbon explorers.
This article appeared in Vol. 18, No. 6 - 2021

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Gulf of Mexico: The Wind of Change

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced on 17 November that the Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 257 generated $191,688,984 in bids for 308 tracts covering 1.7 million acres in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 33 companies participated, submitting $198,511,834 in total bids.

The Biden–Harris administration is continuing its comprehensive review of the offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programmes, with more environmental, social and governance (ESG) pressure expected to be applied on hydrocarbon explorers. 

The Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), covering about 160 million acres, is estimated to contain about 48 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and 141 Tcf of gas, but there is considerable uncertainty about how much of this resource will ultimately be allowed to be exploited. 

BOEM will include lease stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources and avoid potential conflicts between oil and gas development and other activities in the Gulf of Mexico – which may shortly include renewable energy producers. 

  • Wind farms like Thornton Bank in the North Sea could become a common sight in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: Jan Oelker/Wikipedia.

Several environmental groups sued the Interior Secretary in August to prevent the sale, and in a move that was possibly more acceptable to some of the environmental activists, the Biden administration announced in late October, its plans to extend the fledgling offshore wind sector’s footprint deeper into the Gulf of Mexico by taking the first steps to offering lease sales off the coasts of North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas.

The White House has promised to support deployment of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, part of its larger climate-focused decarbonisation efforts. The commitment could result in the federal government’s approving 16 major offshore wind farms in US waters, where currently just two pilot-scale projects are in operation. The proposed area for lease includes 127,865 acres, which is much of the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area, enough to support up to 1.5 GW of power. BOEM is also inviting the offshore wind industry to propose areas for potential leasing across a 30-million-acre swath of the Gulf of Mexico, following the coastline from south Louisiana to the Mexico border.

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