- - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It’s official: Offshore energy is about more than oil and natural gas in the United States. With operations expected to begin soon at the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island, the country will soon tap the power of offshore wind to generate electricity for the very first time.

Block Island is the vanguard of a new approach to expanding the country’s offshore energy portfolio. The potential of offshore wind is enormous. Wind blows off every coast, from Maine down to Florida and around the Gulf to the Mexican border, and from San Diego north to Seattle. Some of the strongest winds can be found off the coasts of Alaska and Hawaii. And since most of our major population centers are located near or along coastlines, the distance between the energy and demand is relatively short.

The Block Island project is an excellent example of how an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production can lead to an affordable, reliable and diverse mix of resources to power our nation’s future. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects we will need more of all forms of offshore energy, both traditional and renewable, to meet growing U.S. and global energy demands in the coming decades.

To its credit, the Obama administration has been laser-focused on facilitating the birth and growth of offshore wind development. But in order to strike the correct energy balance, the incoming Trump administration should look for ways to facilitate rather than thwart, the development of new sources of offshore oil and natural gas. The Fiscal Year 2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, passed by the House in July, is a good model. In addition to smart policy provisions that support access to new federal offshore areas, the bill keeps existing areas, including offshore Alaska, open for continued exploration.

By keeping Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico waters open to research and exploration using modern seismic surveys, we can also further our understanding of America’s true offshore energy potential. The bill rightfully keeps Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act funds in states that host offshore energy development, prevents further implementation of the administration’s ocean zoning executive order, and allows for the continued use of environmentally safe well-stimulation techniques offshore California.

The Block Island Wind Farm is a remarkable first step for America’s emerging offshore wind industry and is a step in the right direction toward a truly all-of the-above offshore energy portfolio consisting of both traditional and renewable energy sources. I am proud that two of our organization’s members, both of which are traditionally active in the oil and gas industry, contributed to this historic achievement. Gulf Island Fabrication constructed the turbine foundations off-site in the Gulf of Mexico, and Montco Offshore vessels helped install the wind farm off of Rhode Island, demonstrating that offshore oil and gas companies and offshore wind companies can support, rather than compete with, each other.

Indeed, there is room offshore for fossil fuel development and renewable energy development alongside a thriving fishing and recreational industry, if policymakers at the state and federal levels continue to support efforts to improve the nation’s energy security through an all-of-the-above approach to energy production.

Randall Luthi is the president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

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