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The Biden administration has approved plans to build the nation’s largest oil export terminal off the Gulf Coast of Texas, which would add 2 million barrels a day to US oil export capacity.
The approval by the Department of Transport’s Shipping Authority was entered into the Federal Register without public notice on Monday, a day after the conclusion of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Earthworks, a nonprofit environmental organization, discovered the filing and published the Sea Port Oil Terminal permit on Tuesday.
“President Biden cannot be a leader in addressing climate change, protecting public health or advocating environmental justice while allowing fossil fuel companies to hold on to decades of fossil fuel extraction,” said Kelsey Crane, the group’s senior policy advocate. 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 benefits employment, economic growth, and the resilience and security of US energy infrastructure.” The port will provide US allies with a reliable source of crude oil in the event of a market disruption.”
The government’s move marked a major step forward for the export sector, which has been growing rapidly since the US began allowing crude oil sales abroad in 2015, the same year the US helped negotiate the Paris climate accord, which was a drastic one Reducing the world’s fossil fuels demanded emissions.
The offshore oil export terminal, the first of four concessions planned on the Texas Gulf Coast, will allow continued growth in US shale oil production and global consumption, and will represent a major setback to White House targets for drastic reductions in carbon emissions year 2030.
“President Biden has renewed United States leadership in the fight against climate change,” the White House said ahead of the UN climate change conference in Egypt this month. “The President is delivering on his promises from day one and positioning the United States to meet our ambitious climate goals.”
In July, the Maritime Administration’s 890-page impact statement said oil processed at the Sea Port Oil Terminal would produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 233 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (about 4% of total US emissions in 2020).
The approval of the Sea Port Oil Terminal off the coast of Freeport, some 50 miles south of Galveston, gave its corporate 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 endorsement and followed a three-year review process.
According to James Coleman, who teaches energy law at Southern Methodist University in Texas, the export terminal permit represents the “hands-off” approach the Biden administration has taken toward oil infrastructure projects since it won the White House by promising Block pipeline extensions.
“They keep urging the oil industry to expand production and build more refineries. And yet they say we need to phase out fossil fuels,” Coleman said. “What they said seems contradictory.”
The Environmental Protection Agency last month gave its approval for the project — also without public notice — prompting Gulf Coast activists to stage a protest in Washington, DC that ended in four arrests last week.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Melanie Oldham, founder of Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water in Brazoria County, where the project is proposed. “[Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Biden have chosen not to be leaders on climate change.”
The EPA has not responded to repeated requests for comment. While the Oct. 7 endorsement of the new terminal outlined concerns about climate change and environmental justice, it didn’t explain why the agency decided to approve the project.
“Last week they were in Egypt and told the world that now is the time for climate action. This week they are locking us up in a climate-destroying monstrosity for at least a generation,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, associate director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.
According to the Maritime Administration, the project will expand an Enterprise-operated terminal in the Houston area 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 subsea pipelines will run to the new deep-water port 30 miles offshore, where two 24-inch floating crude oil hoses will load it onto the world’s largest class of crude oil tankers.
At least 14 huge pumps, totaling 86,000 horsepower, are needed to move the oil from Houston to Freeport and then 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 are currently hauling oil from coastal depots to larger ships waiting in deeper water, miles offshore.
It will process more oil than the largest currently operating U.S. export terminal, Moda Ingleside Crude Export Terminal, owned by Enbridge in Texas, which handles up to 1.6 million barrels per day at the Port of Corpus Christi, the nation’s top oil export port .
“Compared to the facilities and processes in use today, this project will create a safer and more efficient mechanism for oil export and play a key role in facilitating U.S. energy security,” a Maritime Administration spokesman said in a statement.
The administration’s decision established a series of final steps for the Sea Port Oil Terminal to obtain a license and begin construction.
Plans to develop the offshore oil sector date back to the December 2015 lifting of the oil export ban, said Jordan Blum, editorial director at Hart Energy in Houston. However, efforts lost momentum in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to a drop in global oil demand.
Now that demand has risen sharply again and prices are exploding, the development of the export sector is progressing. The Maritime Administration’s approval gives the Sea Port Oil Terminal a clear lead among similar projects.
“There was essentially this big race to build these,” Blum said. “Not all of these projects get built, so being first is really important.”
The Sea Port Oil Terminal hopes to be operational by the end of 2025. If it does, Blum said it will initially attract business from less efficient onshore terminals in Houston and Corpus Christi. Over time it will allow for growth in oil production from the shale fields of Texas and beyond.
“It would allow increased production to continue. It would stimulate more production, but it wouldn’t be like a light switch,” Blum said.
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University was a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial backers play no part in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list can be found here.