New study examines potential marine renewable energy conflicts and mitigation strategies

Marker buoys ready for deployment on R/V Pacific Storm

Marker buoys read for recent deployment at the wave-energy test site off Newport

A recent study with participation from multiple Sea Grant programs takes a deep look at potential space-use conflicts in siting alternative energy along the US Outer Continental Shelf – and offers strategies for reducing those conflicts.

In the search for renewable energy sources, the potential to harness the clean power of wind, wave, and tide can seem irresistible. The long US coastlines offer what appears to be virgin territory for new energy producing facilities. But a closer look reveals that coastal and offshore areas are already teeming with productive activity – activity that could suffer if ignored in the quest for marine energy.

In 2011 and 2012, Oregon Sea Grant’s Flaxen Conway worked with Madeleine Hall-Arber of MIT Sea Grant, Carry Pomeroy of California Sea Grant and Industrial Economics, Inc., plus collaborators from the Urban Harbors Institute and  Virginia Sea Grant to identify, and develop strategies to avoid and reduce, potential space-use conflicts on the Outer Continental Shelf in the context of alternative energy development. Funding was from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The study documents the characteristics of existing ocean uses including transportation and shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, sailing and boating, military operations, sand and gravel excavation, oil and gas facilities, and scientific research, and the cooperation and conflict negotiation that arise among such users.

New uses, such as aquaculture and marine renewable energy, with their demand for extensive, exclusive space, may engender additional serious conflicts. The authors note when two users want exclusive access to an area, it puts pressure on federal, state and regional agencies or organizations to try to manage the offshore space equitably.

The research team used ethnographic research techniques to interview stakeholders on both coasts, from commercial fishermen to cruise lines, port managers and  trade industry groups, as well as academic and government organizations. They conducted formal interviews, informal conversations and group meetings to identify conflicts among the various uses, and existing and new strategies for solving – or avoiding – those conflicts.

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