President Trump’s announcement extending an offshore drilling moratorium off North Carolina will block future development of additional wind energy areas, a prominent industry group warns.
Trump’s election campaign with its surprise executive orders extending a moratorium on waters off Florida up the Atlantic coast brought dismay from the offshore oil industry, long promised widespread opening of new lease areas by Trump.
The next Sept. 25 extension of the order to North Carolina brought criticism from the National Ocean Industries Association – always an ally of the oil majors, and now, aligned with offshore wind energy developers to build a new industry off the East Coast.
“An offshore moratorium that stretches from the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to the top of North Carolina’s offshore areas needlessly jeopardizes our nation’s long-term economic and national security,” said Erik Milito, NOIA’s president in a statement after Trump’s announcement.
“The announcement also casts tremendous uncertainty on the outlook for wind offshore off North Carolina,” said Milito, citing a recent Wood Mackenzie report that estimates 2020 or 2021 wind lease sales off the Carolinas “could support 37,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages annually, more than $44.9 billion in total capital investment and 11.5 GW of electricity.”
“Without a clear and stable regulatory horizon, interest and investment in developing offshore wind resources will be diminished,” he said.
Existing offshore wind leases are not affected by the moratorium, which takes effect July 1, 2022 and extends for 10 years. But wind industry advocates and their allies in Northeast states like New York say it’s critical that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management identify additional wind energy areas and plan for future lease offerings, to assure developers and supply chain companies of continued growth.
In a tight election campaign, Trump’s portrayal of the orders as preventing oil exploration could play well in South Carolina’s prosperous, populous Lowcountry, where coastal and tourism businesses have worked with environmental groups to forestall offshore drilling.
It’s a turnaround from the Trump administration’s earlier efforts to open more offshore areas for oil exploration and also overturn an Obama administration order that blocked exploration in Arctic waters.
Yet it’s not the first time the Trump administration has pulled a 180-degree policy swing on offshore energy. In January 2018 then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suddenly reversed plans for leasing new areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a move critics viewed as benefiting former Gov. Rick Scott in his bid for a Florida Senate seat.