In response to both the nation’s growing energy and security needs, Congress accelerated the deepwater port licensing process to promote the importation of oil and natural gas to offshore energy receiving facilities as well as the export of oil and natural gas to offshore energy transfer facilities. The rigid timeline of the Deepwater Port Act requires significant pre-application development on the part of an applicant to meet license requirements and avoid a suspended review that can significantly delay processing activities. The Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast Guard work with applicants to meet rigorous review requirements and the expectations of State regulators and the general public in the licensing process.
The Pre-Application Process
The pre-application stage gives potential applicants the opportunity to confer with the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard to provide an overview of their proposed project, discuss the intricate details of the Federal and State application and licensing process, introduce key personnel and discuss specific financial requirements mandated by the Deepwater Port Act. Applicants are encouraged to conduct similar meetings with State and local agencies to review and discuss State requirements and interests.
The project milestones of the application process have mandatory deadlines and operate on a 356-day ‘clock’ that begins when the applicant submits a deepwater port license application and ends when the Maritime Administration issues a Record of Decision.
The Maritime Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and other Federal and State agencies evaluate a newly submitted application for completeness. This process takes 26 days (Step 1) and results in either a Notice of Application published in the Federal Register or a formal rejection by the Maritime Administrator.
The table below represents a typical timeline, assuming there are no clock stoppages to get additional information.
The National Environmental Policy Act process takes up approximately two-thirds (240 days, Steps 2 to 3d) of the application review timeline and begins when the Notice of Application is issued. During this time, the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, in collaboration with other agencies, ensure that a thorough Environmental Impact Statement is developed. Any gaps in information may require a suspension of the timeline. The Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard will suspend an application review because of a lack of adequate information necessary to the application decision-making process. Examples of issues that have triggered “stop clocks” (or suspended reviews), include but are not limited to:
- Inadequate information regarding project financing
- Proposed re-gasification and liquefaction technologies
- Fisheries analysis
- Air quality review
- Endangered species
- Marine habitats
- Cultural resources
Along with the National Environmental Policy Act review process, the Maritime Administration has its own approval criteria that must be met before a license may be issued.
Once the application has made it through the Federal and State review process (Step 4) and has reached the Record of Decision stage (Step 5), the Maritime Administrator will render a final decision based on the applicant’s ability to meet and comply with the following nine criteria as set forth in the Deepwater Port Act of 1974, as amended and in accordance with other applicable laws and regulations. Further, the official Record of Decision will describe the Maritime Administration’s decision to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application.