Oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico are finding work in the offshore wind energy industry Ship’s crew

By Josh Saul (Bloomberg) —

Every morning, more than 600 workers arrive at the Louisiana shipyard where the Eco Edison, the first US-built offshore wind farm maintenance vessel, is under construction. At the end of the day, a parade of pickup trucks and dusty sedans backs up the road back into town, past buildings that served the long-dominant oil and gas industry.

This is just part of the energy transition that is transforming the Gulf of Mexico region, which is seeing a surge in offshore wind projects. In February, the Biden administration announced the first sale of offshore wind leases in the Gulf off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Dominion Energy Inc. is spending $500 million on first US-built installation vessel, 472-foot long Charybdis, in Brownsville, Texas; and hundreds of people work on the first US-built machine substation near Corpus Christi. In Louisiana, where the National Football League team plays wears black Because the oil is the color, new businesses and jobs are springing up to support the nascent $100 billion industry.

The number of active projects shows that the Gulf’s offshore expertise, acquired through decades of oil and gas activity, translates well to supporting wind farms currently under construction. Of about 1,200 contracts signed by US companies for offshore supplies such as survey work, substations and cables, companies in the Gulf and South have made 23%, according to a tally by industry group Business Network for Offshore Wind. A sign near the Edison Chouest offshore shipyard, where there is another large windboat alongside the one Eco Edison is also under construction, it says: “Applications are accepted for all trades!”

Gary Chouest, CEO of the company, his father, a shrimp fisherman started in 1960, hopes that the wind industry will continue to grow. “It keeps Cajuns going,” he said.

There is currently little reason to continue building oil and gas ships, he said Eco Edison Project Manager Whit Carter: Many of them are already standing still due to the oil and gas downturn that started in 2014 when prices took a hit the biggest drops since World War II. Carter, who has helped build around 30 oil and gas boats over his career, is not choosy when it comes to working downwind. “It’s important to me that there’s work,” he said, standing next to him C pioneer and the C fightertwo huge boats formerly used to supply drilling operations but are now being converted to build wind farms.

“An economic lifeline”

At a New Orleans shipyard 45 miles offshore from Edison Chouest, research and design firm Gulf Wind Technology is building a giant wind tunnel to build “hurricane-proof” wind turbines. energy giant Shell Plc 10 million dollars invested at Gulf Wind in March to advance research into turbines that could generate electricity profitably and survive gusts of wind.

Gulf Wind Chief Executive Officer James Martin said the region’s extensive infrastructure and experienced workforce is perfect for offshore wind power. His company’s headquarters includes a 30,000-square-foot research facility with access to manufacturing space spanning the equivalent of nearly 20 soccer fields. “You need these huge areas to make the job easier,” Martin said as contractors sprayed insulation into a nearby building that housed a 50-meter-long turbine blade. “Oil and gas are at the scale that offshore wind power needs.”

The 2015 oil spill and then Covid-19 wreaked havoc on Louisiana oil and gas exploration jobs. The state had about 25,000 oil and gas workers in 2021, which is half the 2015 level Louisiana State University report. Layoffs led to a decline in local businesses and a drop in school enrollments. Combined with hurricane damage and rising insurance premiums, the downturn has drained some coastal cities, according to Greater New Orleans Inc., the economic development agency for southeast Louisiana.

A single offshore wind farm built in the Gulf could create about 4,500 jobs and provide a $445 million boost to the economy, the study said US Department of Energy, albeit with far fewer jobs and far less money in the years after construction. By 2030, the total investment needed to meet the nation’s offshore wind power goals across the U.S. could be around $100 billion, according to an estimate cited by the Department of Energy.

The energy industry sees wind “as an economic lifeline,” said Michael Hecht, chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc. “We’re going to sell blades to the wind industry gold diggers.”

headwind

Europe has been harnessing the power of sea winds for decades and wind farms have been erected in the first three months of this year largest power source in the UK for the first time. In the US, however, the industry is only just beginning. Several states have set ambitious targets for offshore wind power and US President Joe Biden is aiming to have enough turbines in US waters to power more than 10 million homes by 2030. The first two major parks under construction — off the coasts of New York and Massachusetts — are slated to begin generating power this summer.

However, significant challenges remain, including persistent inflation and rising political opposition. Soaring costs delayed the construction of two huge wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts by at least a year, and Danish energy giant Orsted AS – one of the companies building them Eco Edison – said it will pocket a loss of about $365 million for a farm it is building near New York. The impact of offshore wind energy on marine life is also still being researched, and Republican lawmakers have taken the whale killer tide as an opportunity to call for the industry to halt.

Texas is another potential obstacle. A Houston manufacturer built the five turbine foundations for the first US offshore wind farm in 2016, and the state’s size means it has the region’s largest electricity needs. But Republican lawmakers in Texas recently introduced a series of bills that would make it harder to generate clean energy. The state isn’t showing the same enthusiasm for offshore wind energy as its Cajun neighbor to the east.

“You need Texas to move the needle in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jeff Andreini, vice president of wind services at shipping company Crowley. “Louisiana doesn’t have the same momentum.” To assess the wind outlook in the Gulf, Crowley will be watching the upcoming lease sale, which includes twice as many acres off the coast of Galveston, Texas as it does off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Because of the Gulf’s existing infrastructure, including gas pipelines and export facilities, companies are also considering the possibility of using ocean winds to produce green hydrogen, a technology that received large tax credits in Biden’s groundbreaking climate law thanks to its potential to replace some fossil fuels . But even if wind farms don’t come up in the Gulf, workers and companies can make big bucks elsewhere building equipment for wind farms.

“I’ve been unemployed for too long, so any job is good for me,” said Bernie Dunmiles, a 33-year-old who describes himself as a hiker and has his son’s name tattooed on his neck. Dunmiles sweeps and cleans nearby tanks Eco Edison for $12 an hour while workers around him use giant machines to bend metal to precise specifications and weld together ship components with robotic arms. Dunmiles said, “I like working upwind.”

–With support from David Wethe.

© 2023 Bloomberg LP

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