A more holistic project approach indicates that the Gulf of Mexico may actually be among the most appealing areas in terms of costs, available maritime and industrial resources, and solutions for minimising physical and environmental constraints.
In February, the proposed sale notice for three lease areas proximate to Louisiana and Texas were released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
The notice included potential stipulations prioritising investment into workforce training, domestic supply chain development, fishery protection and community engagement.
Then in April, BOEM’s regional director said the gulf states are workforce and port-infrastructure ready; backed by more than 70 years of offshore industry-related expertise.
My observations confirm this, based on project engagements related to early-stage planning and risk assessment, monitoring of regulatory frameworks, stakeholder research, and review of potential technological advancements, such as storage and hydrogen opportunities.
Wind resource, cost and technology
According to a BOEM-funded study; generating potential in the gulf is nearly 510GW per year, while further studies indicate that wind speeds are very low, gusts are high, and there are limited commercially available turbines designed to withstand the unique gulf conditions.
Most current offshore wind project designs are based on technologies used in the North Sea; an area subject to high winds and less extreme gusts. As a result, the North Sea, and regions with similar characteristics, have the ability to use larger turbines of 15-21MW. A separate study concluded that the 12-20MW turbines are most optimal, and while larger rotors do generate more electricity, wind project Capex typically increases with increased turbine rating and decreased specific power density.
The studies found that the shallow waters of the gulf reduced the need for taller, more expensive models, which means platforms such as the Doosan 8MW, used in South Korea, would be perfectly feasible.
In terms of foundation type, the regional depth and bottom profile can support both fixed and floating options.
Current lease areas are presumed to be sited with fixed bottom jacket or monopile given the water depths. The risk of damage from hurricanes is perhaps the greatest challenge here. Based on review of historical storm data, all areas within the Gulf are exposed to risk from hurricanes and it is highly likely that any project developed will be impacted by at least one major hurricane within the 30-year operational life.
Engineers are considering a variety of solutions, including the oil and gas industry’s twisted jacket foundations, European concepts of towing floating turbines to harbour during intense storms, or the US Department of Energy-led research and development for downward or collapsible blades.
Workforce, supply chain and port capabilities
This region has a deep history in maritime industries and the impressive skill set of the workforce is directly transferable to supporting construction and operation of offshore wind projects.
The construction of the 30MW Block Island demonstrator was supported by two Louisiana oil and gas steel-fabrication companies, while New Orleans hosts the only US wind engineering technology center.
There is ample opportunity for port and industrial site “repurposing” along the Gulf of Mexico coast. The gulf could also serve as a fabrication and operation centre locally, as well as service regions of the US where local manufacturing and port facilities are not as robust.
Environmental, regulatory and stakeholder considerations
Compared to other regions poised for offshore development, the gulf has been more heavily explored and developed, with marine wildlife surveys since the 1950s, by respected organisations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Meanwhile, pre-development surveys for O&G infrastructure and navigational surveys for the shipping industry have also been extensively performed.
Since there are documented protected species, including numerous species of sea turtle, time of year restrictions for certain construction activities will likely be established by both BOEM, NOAA, and state wildlife or coastal management agencies during permitting process.
Since early 2021, stakeholders including regulatory agencies, tribal communities and scientific research groups have been in meetings to facilitate the permitting process and resolve concerns around offshore wind development by exchangeing information on ocean uses and resources.
BOEMs proactive approach has allowed the region to better prepare for the upcoming auction and future project siting. A more thorough understanding of risks and constraints enabled refinement of the initial ‘call areas’ to the more feasible ‘wind energy areas’, and ultimately, to the proposed lease areas. Consultation, collaboration and studies, as well as early engagement with stakeholders, has led to more advanced and thoughtful strategies and this approach may prevent future regulatory bottlenecks.
The gulf’s deep maritime history and offshore industrial expertise, coupled with existing port infrastructure, supports the necessary progression of the US workforce and supply chain.
Meanwhile, the volume of offshore projects progressing through the BOEM-led review process has allowed for a more thorough understanding of regulatory requirements and timelines.
Together with the available data on wind speeds and from environmental studies, these factors suggest the gulf has great potential to bolster the US market.
Kristin Carman is project and permit manager for DNV’s North American offshore wind team