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Offshore Wind: BOEM And the Maine Fishing Industry

On October 1, 2021, the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) submitted an application to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to develop a floating offshore wind research array in federal waters. Located in the southern Maine portion of the Gulf of Maine (GOM), the array would take up 16 square miles (10,000 acres) of ocean and have fewer than 12 floating turbines. The Maine fishing industry raised concerns over the leasing process and remains confused as to how that process works.

To understand the process, one needs to understand what BOEM is, the different stages of the leasing process, and how this affects the future of the Maine fishing industry. BOEM is the federal agency in charge of developing the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) energy and mineral resources in an environmentally responsible manner. Originally, the agency was focused on oil, gas, and mineral development. However, BOEM’s attention shifted to renewable energy with the passing of The Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The BOEM leasing process takes place in four main phases: planning and analysis, leasing, site assessment, and construction and operations. A Request for Information (RFI) is initially released to determine the level of interest in offshore wind leasing. After a period of public comment, a call for information and nominations follows to identify areas that are not suitable for development. This is when entities such as the fishing industry can weigh in to point out certain areas of the ocean they believe cannot coexist with wind turbines.

Concept design of offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. Photo courtesy of Seafood News.com.

BOEM next identifies a Wind Energy Area for environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This lease area can be split into multiple sections for sale. A Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) is issued for the area or areas that are going to be leased and sold. After this, a Final Sale Notice can be authorized where companies can bid to participate.

During the site assessment phase, the environmental effects of a project are evaluated through two parallel processes. Site characterization activities involve assessing everything from biological to archaeological surveys. Site assessment activities involve meteorological and oceanographic buoy deployment.

The fourth and final stage is construction and operations. BOEM produces an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report on the project. The results of the EIS can result in the agency approving, approving with modification, or delaying the construction phase. Once all concerns have been addressed, BOEM’s sister agency, known as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSSE), takes over responsibilities for the project.

As a research array, the state of Maine’s application will move through a more streamlined, non-competitive process.

For 2021 to 2025, BOEM’s Leasing Road Map has ambitious goals for offshore wind development including a target of holding a lease sale for the GOM in 2024. During fall 2021 and this winter, BOEM conducted a “Request for Information on Guidance for Mitigating Impacts to Commercial and Recreational Fisheries from Offshore Wind Energy Development” identified ideas and considerations from the fishing community, offshore wind energy developers, and others to inform draft guidance. Currently the agency is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), state fishery and coastal management agencies, and technical experts to draft guidance stemming from public comments.

The final version of the draft guidance for mitigating fishing industry impacts will be published in summer 2022.

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