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 Texas’ Gulf Coast, which would add 2 million barrels per day to US oil export capacity.

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The approval by the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration was filed Monday without any public announcement in the federal register, one day after the United Nations’ annual climate conference in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh.

Earthworks, an environmental nonprofit, saw the submission and public approval of the Sea Port Oil Terminal on Tuesday.

“President Biden cannot lead the way in fighting climate change, protecting public health or advocating for environmental justice while allowing fossil fuel companies to commit decades of fossil fuel extraction,” said the group’s senior policy attorney Kelsey Crane, 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 U.S. energy infrastructure. The port will be a reliable source of crude oil to U.S. allies in the event of market disruption.”

The government’s move represented a major step forward for the export sector, which has grown rapidly since the US allowed the sale of crude oil abroad in 2015, the same year the US helped broker the Paris climate agreement. which called for drastic reductions in global fossil fuels. emissions.

SEE RELATED STORY: UH Expert Says Biden’s Release of 15 Million Barrels of Oil Reserve Will Make No Difference at the Pump

The offshore oil export terminal, the first to be approved of four proposed along the Texas Gulf Coast, will allow further growth in US shale oil production and global consumption, a significant setback to White House goals for drastic reductions in carbon emissions by year 2030.

“President Biden has renewed the leadership of the United States in the fight against climate change,” the White House said ahead of the UN climate conference in Egypt this month. “The president is delivering on his promises on day one and positioning the United States to meet our ambitious climate goals.”

In July, the Maritime Administration’s 890-page impact statement said that oil processed at the Sea Port Oil Terminal would generate greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 233 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (about 4% of total U.S. emissions in 2020).

Approval of the Sea Port Oil Terminal, off the coast of Freeport, about 50 miles south of Galveston, gave corporate developers – Enterprise and Endbridge – a clear lead in the race to build the first new offshore export terminal in the Gulf. It was the agency’s first approval and followed a three-year evaluation process.

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

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

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

“I’m extremely 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 be climate change leaders.”

The EPA has not responded to repeated requests for comment. While the approval of the new terminal on October 7 raised concerns about climate change and environmental justice, it was not explained 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 are trapping us in a climate-destroying monstrosity for at least a generation,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, deputy director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

According to the Maritime Administration, the project will expand a terminal in the Houston area 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 underwater 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 gigantic pumps with a combined capacity of 86,000 horsepower will be required to move the oil from Houston to Freeport and then to the offshore terminal.

The project will create 62 permanent jobs, plus 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 carry oil from coastal depots to larger vessels waiting in deeper water miles offshore.

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

“Compared to facilities and processes in use today, this project will create a safer and more efficient oil export mechanism and play a key role in advancing U.S. energy security,” a spokesman for the Maritime Administration said in a statement. .

The administration’s decision included a series of final steps for the Sea Port Oil Terminal to receive a permit and begin construction.

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

With demand picking up again and prices skyrocketing, the development of the export sector is continuing. The approval of the Maritime Administration gives the Sea Port Oil Terminal a clear advantage over similar projects.

“There was essentially a big race to build this one,” Blum said. “Not all of these projects will get built, so it’s very important to be the first step.”

The Sea Port Oil Terminal hopes to be operational by the end of 2025. If it does, Blum said, it will initially take business from less efficient onshore terminals in Houston and Corpus Christi. Over time, it will enable growth in oil production from Texas shale oil fields and beyond.

“It would allow for increased production. It would encourage more production, but it wouldn’t be a light switch,” Blum said.

The Texas Tribune is a non-profit, nonpartisan media organization that informs – and collaborates with – Texans on public policy, politics, government and national issues.

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