With a long history of oil and gas production — and hospitable conditions for marine renewable energy installations — the US Gulf of Mexico has the capability to position itself as a key region in the energy transition.
Oil and gas production in the deep-water Gulf already has a relatively low carbon intensity, says Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA).
“The offshore is a region that, based upon the data, we know provides the lowest-carbon barrels out of all the producing regions,” Milito says. “So, from an oil and gas standpoint, as long as we need to feed global and US demand ... the best place for us to get that is the Gulf of Mexico.”
Oil and gas majors looking to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 must reduce carbon intensity and overall emissions while utilising and developing other options for offsetting carbon emissions. The US Gulf could provide this opportunity.
The region’s position in the energy transition is reinforced with its potential for renewable energy, including the transfer of oil and gas industry jobs to the sector.
The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had its first Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting for the US Gulf in June, focused on facilitating coordination among federal, state, local and tribal governments regarding wind energy on the outer continental shelf.
With renewables, BOEM is talking primarily about offshore wind, due to the high capacity the US Gulf has for the resource.
“The infrastructure exists to support offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico,” says BOEM US Gulf regional director Michael Celata.
“Tremendous potential exists for offshore wind in federal waters near the Texas-Louisiana state line.”
Milito says more government incentives will be required to build momentum for offshore renewable energy and overcome its associated economic hurdles.
The pace of technology development and pilot projects must increase to ensure that the technologies are efficient and profitable.
In February, BOEM issued a lease for the first wave-energy research project in federal waters off the US West Coast, marking a rise in focus on marine renewables, but Milito says more such projects are needed.
“These announcements are way too few and far between. You need lots of projects like this because it takes a lot of cracks at it to finally get it to the point where it’s going to work,” he says.
There is additional potential in the US Gulf for repurposing offshore platforms for renewable energy and other research and development projects, which Milito says could allow the region to be used as a testbed for emerging energy sources.
Roy Robinson, oil and gas veteran and founder of offshore renewables start-up Excipio Energy, recently received a Department of Energy grant to study the repurposing of offshore platforms.
He says the US Gulf is especially well-suited to the development of new renewable energy technology.
The Gulf of Mexico provides a relatively benign environment for the installation of renewable energy devices and sufficiently challenging conditions to test them, Robinson says.
“The costs basis is half the east and west coasts, the local community welcomes offshore installations, and the best construction yards in the US are here," he adds.
"On top of that, hurricanes provide the extremes to prove out the devices.”
The expertise and workforce from the US Gulf region's oil and gas industry will be necessary for projects to be successful, Robinson says.
Many jobs in the oil and gas value chain are directly transferable to these projects, including marine construction, fabrication, shipyards, dive crews and many others.
Deep-water oil and gas production in the US Gulf will continue for many years but as non-fossil fuels increasingly take a greater share of the energy mix, the region's experienced workforce and potential for marine renewables could secure it a significant role in the energy transition.
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