Freeport offshore oil export project quietly approved by Biden administration despite climate rhetoric

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The Biden administration has approved plans to build the nation’s largest oil export terminal off Texas’ Gulf Coast, a project that would add 2 million barrels a day to the US’s oil export capacity. United States.

The approval, filed with federal register Monday without public announcement, came a day after the conclusion of the annual United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Approval of the Seaport Oil Terminal off Freeport, about 50 miles south of Galveston, gives its corporate developers – Company and Enbridge — a clear lead in the race to build the first new offshore export terminal in the Gulf. It came after a three-year review.

In his 94-page decision, the Department of Transport’s Maritime Administration wrote: “The construction and operation of the port is in the national interest as the project will benefit employment, economic growth and the resilience and security of energy infrastructure. Americans. The port will provide a reliable source of crude oil to US allies in the event of a market disruption. »

The approval was first reported on Tuesday by Earthworksa non-profit environmental association.

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The administration’s decision marked a major step forward for the export sector, which has grown rapidly since the United States started to allow overseas crude sales in 2015, the same year the United States helped broker the Paris climate accord calling for dramatic cuts in global fossil fuel emissions.

Biden’s contradictions

The offshore terminal, the first to be approved of four proposed along the Texas Gulf Coast, will enable continued growth in US shale oil production and global consumption, inflicting a substantial setback on the White House Goals for a drastic reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

In July, the maritime administration 890-page impact statement said oil processed at the Sea Port Oil Terminal would create greenhouse gas emissions equal to 233 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about 4% of total US emissions in 2020.

According to James Coleman, who teaches energy law at Southern Methodist University, the export terminal approval represents the “hands-off” approach the Biden administration has taken to oil infrastructure projects since its inception. she won the White House on promises to block pipeline extensions.

“They keep asking the oil industry to increase production and build more refineries. And yet they say we have to phase out fossil fuels,” Coleman said. “What they said seems contradictory.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released its approval of the project last month — also without a public announcement — prompting Gulf Coast activists to stage a protest in Washington, DC, which ended with four arrests Last week.

“I am extremely disappointed,” said Melanie Oldham, founder of Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water in Brazoria County, where the project is proposed. “Secretary (of Transportation) Pete Buttigieg and President (Joe) Biden have chosen not to be climate change leaders.”

The EPA did not respond to repeated requests for comment. While his October 7 approval of the new terminal highlighted concerns about climate change and environmental justice, he did not explain why the agency chose to approve the project.

“Last week they were in Egypt telling the world that now is the time for climate action. This week, they’re locking us into a climate-destroying monstrosity for at least a generation,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, deputy director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

How it works

According to the Maritime Administration, the project will expand a Houston Area Terminal operated by Enterprise and connect it to a new 140-acre onshore facility near Freeport with 4.8 million barrels of storage capacity. From there, two 36-inch undersea pipelines will head to the new deep-water port, 30 miles offshore, where two 24-inch floating crude pipes will load it onto the world’s largest class of tankers.

At least 14 giant pumps with a combined 86,000 horsepower will be needed to transport the oil from Houston to Freeport and then to the offshore terminal.

The project will create 62 permanent jobs and up to 1,400 temporary construction jobs, according to the Maritime Administration.

The project aims to improve the efficiency of oil exports from the Texas coast, where smaller tankers are currently ferry oil from coastal depots to larger ships waiting in deeper waters miles offshore.

It will handle more oil than the largest US export terminal currently in operation, Moda Ingleside Crude Export Terminalowned by Enbridge, which ships up to 1.6 million barrels a day to the Port of Corpus Christi, the nation’s top port for oil exports.

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“Compared to the facilities and processes used today, this project will create a safer and more efficient mechanism for exporting oil and will play a key role in facilitating U.S. energy security,” said one. Maritime Administration spokesperson in a statement.

The administration’s decision set out a series of final steps for the seaport’s oil terminal to receive a license and begin construction.

Roots in the 2015 decision

Plans for offshore oil sector development date back to the lifting of the oil export ban in December 2015, said Jordan Blum, managing editor at Hart Energy in Houston. But efforts lost momentum in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused global oil demand to plummet.

Now that the demand has roared and prices are soaring, the development of the export sector is progressing. Maritime Administration approval gives Sea Port Oil Terminal a clear lead among other projects.

“There was basically this big race to build them,” Blum said. “Not all of these projects will be built, so it is very important to be the first to act.”

The Sea Port Oil Terminal hopes to start operations by the end of 2025. When it does, Blum said, it will initially attract business from less efficient onshore terminals in Houston and Corpus Christi. Over time, this will allow for growth in oil production from the Texas shale oil fields and beyond.

“This would allow us to continue to increase production. It would encourage more production, but it wouldn’t be like a switch,” Blum said.

This story is published in partnership with Inside Climate News, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering climate, energy and the environment.

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