EIS backs Minerals Service regulation of ocean projects on Outer Shelf

The Minerals Management Service issued a final environmental impact statement Nov. 6 supporting MMS regulation of alternative energy projects on the offshore Outer Continental Shelf, including ocean current and wave energy projects.

The EIS takes a first look at the potential environmental, social, and economic effects from, and mitigation measures for, energy project activities that could be initiated in the next five to seven years. Later this year, the Interior Department agency plans to issue a record of decision on the program.

The EIS identified a preferred alternative that includes establishment of the program through rulemaking and consideration of individual project proposals on a case-by-case basis. It said that approach provides the Minerals Management Service with flexibility to issue and manage leases, easements, or rights-of-way on the Outer Continental Shelf.

�This is an important step in fostering a new offshore industry that can diversify our nation’s power supplies by developing new sources of secure, clean, and renewable energy,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 granted the Interior Department discretionary authority — which it delegated to MMS — to issue leases, easements, and rights-of-way for activities on the OCS that produce or support production, transportation, or transmission of energy from sources other than oil and gas. Those sources can include wave energy, ocean current energy, wind energy, solar energy, and hydrogen production.

An electronic copy of the EIS is available on the Internet at http://ocsenergy.anl.gov.

MMS offers interim leases for ocean data collection, testing

The Minerals Management Service also announced an interim policy that would authorize developers to collect data and establish test facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf. Under previous policy, MMS would not consider proposals for new alternative energy projects without completion of the EIS, and issuance of a final rulemaking, still some months off.

MMS said it is initiating the interim policy under which resource data collection facilities, such as meteorological towers and wave and current data collection instruments, and technology testing facilities, such as wave and current turbines, could be authorized for installation and operation on the OCS before promulgation of final rules.

The agency would issue limited-term leases authorizing data collection activities and technology testing, subject to approvals for construction and placement of structures on the OCS lease area. Leases would have a limited term of perhaps five years and would confer no priority rights to subsequent power project development, MMS said.

MMS said parties seeking such authorizations should submit detailed information, as described in its Federal Register notice: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/pdf/E7-21793.pdf. The notice also requests comments by Jan. 7, 2008, concerning the authorization of activities on the OCS.

MMS-FERC jurisdictional question remains unanswered

The final EIS does not resolve a question of jurisdictional issues involving the Minerals Management Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. Although MMS and FERC at one time agreed to develop a memorandum of understanding to resolve jurisdictional issues, MMS has not signed the memorandum, at the request of senators who indicated the issue was still in play. (HNN 10/4/07)

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