President Joe Biden’s administration quietly approves plan to build nation’s largest oil export terminal off Texas Gulf Coast

The Biden administration has approved plans to build the country’s largest oil export terminal off the Texas Gulf Coast, which will add 2 million barrels per day to US oil export capacity.

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The approval from the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration was filed with the Federal Register on Monday without any public announcement, a day after the conclusion of the annual United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Earthworks, a nonprofit environmental organization, spotted the registration and announced approval of the Seaport oil terminal on Tuesday.

“President Biden cannot lead in fighting climate change, protecting public health, or advocating for environmental justice while allowing fossil fuel companies to secure contracts from fossil fuel extraction,” Kelsey Crane, the group’s senior policy advocate, said in a statement.

In its 94-page decision, the Maritime Administration wrote, “The construction and operation of the port is in the national interest because the project will benefit employment, economic growth, and the resilience and security of America’s energy infrastructure. The port will provide a reliable source of crude oil for U.S. allies in the event of market turmoil.”

The administration’s move marked a major step forward for the export sector, which has grown rapidly since the United States began allowing sales of crude oil abroad in 2015, the same year the United States helped broker the Paris climate accord that called for deep cuts in oil. global fossil fuels. emissions.

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The offshore oil export terminal, the first of four proposed to be approved along the Texas Gulf Coast, would enable continued growth in U.S. shale oil production and in global consumption, delivering a significant setback to White House goals of radical reductions in carbon emissions. by 2030.

“President Biden has renewed US leadership in combating climate change,” the White House said ahead of the United Nations climate conference in Egypt this month. “The President delivers on his promises on Day One, and puts the United States in a position to achieve our ambitious climate goals.”

In July, the Maritime Administration’s 890-page impact statement said oil processed at a seaport oil terminal would create greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 233 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (about 4% of total US emissions for 2020).

Approval for the Seaport oil terminal, off the coast of Freeport, about 50 miles south of Galveston, has given the two developers – Enterprise and Endbridge – a clear lead in the race to build the Gulf’s first new offshore export terminal. It was the agency’s first approval and followed a three-year review process.

According to James Coleman, who teaches energy law at Southern Methodist University in Texas, the export terminal approval marks the “hands-off” approach the Biden administration has taken to oil infrastructure projects since winning the White House on promises to block pipeline expansions.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency issued its approval of the project last month — also without a public announcement — prompting Gulf Coast activists to stage a protest in Washington, D.C., that ended in four arrests last week.

“I am very disappointed,” said Melanie Oldham, founder of Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water in Brazoria County, where the project is being proposed. “[Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Biden have chosen not to lead on climate change.”

The EPA did not respond to repeated requests for comment. While its Oct. 7 certification of the new plant identified concerns about climate change and environmental justice, it did not explain why the agency chose to approve the project.

said Jeffrey Jacoby, deputy director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

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 a storage capacity of 4.8 million barrels. From there, two 36-inch underwater pipelines will run to the new deepwater port, 30 miles offshore, where they will be loaded by floating 24-inch crude hoses onto the world’s largest class of crude tankers.

At least 14 super pumps with a total output of 86,000 horsepower would be required to transport oil from Houston to Freeport and on to the offshore terminal.

The project will create 62 permanent jobs, as well as 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 currently move oil from coastal warehouses to larger vessels waiting in deep waters miles offshore.

It will process more oil than the largest U.S. export terminal currently in operation, the Moda Ingleside Crude Export Terminal, owned by Enbridge, Texas, which moves up to 1.6 million barrels per day at the port of Corpus Christi, the country’s largest port for oil exports.

“Compared to facilities and operations in use today, this project will create a safer and more efficient mechanism for exporting oil, and will play a major role in facilitating energy security in the United States,” a spokesperson for the Maritime Administration said in a statement.

The management’s decision set a series of final steps for the offshore oil port to obtain a license and start construction.

Plans to develop the offshore oil sector go back to the lifting of the oil export embargo in December 2015, said Jordan Blum, managing editor at Hart Energy in Houston. But the effort lost momentum in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline in global demand for oil.

Now that demand is back and prices are rising, the development of the export sector is moving forward. The approval of the Maritime Administration gives the seaport oil terminal a clear lead among similar projects.

“There was basically this big race to build these,” Bloom said. “Not all of these projects will get built, so it’s really important to be the first mover.”

The seaport oil terminal hopes to begin operations by the end of 2025. When that happens, Bloom said, it will initially draw business from the less efficient onshore terminals in Houston and Corpus Christi. Over time, it will enable growth in oil production from shale oil fields in Texas and beyond.

“It will allow the increase in production to continue. It will encourage more production, but it will not be like a light switch,” Blum said.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans—and engages with them—about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

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