Biden admin issues license for massive oil export terminal

By Heather Richards | 04/10/2024 01:31 PM EDT

The Sea Port project will include two 46-mile pipelines to carry crude from shore to the deepwater port, which is planned to be operational by 2027.

A liquefied natural gas tanker.

A liquefied natural gas tanker is shown. Steve Campbell/Houston Chronicle/AP

The Biden administration has given a final green light for a massive oil export terminal to be built off the Texas coast and send U.S. crude to Asia and Europe.

Enterprise Products Partners announced Tuesday that it had received a final license for the Sea Port Oil Terminal, or SPOT, from the Department of Transportation. The license lets Enterprise build a deepwater oil export facility off the coast of Freeport, Texas, that can load 2 million barrels of crude oil onto ships daily.

The license issuance comes just days after a federal appellate court upheld the Biden administration’s argument that the port would be in the national interest, in a blow to environmental groups and climate activists who had tried to reverse its approval.


The port, one of several seeking a nod from the Biden administration, responds to a jump in exports of crude oil amid record levels of domestic production, a dynamic that’s challenged President Joe Biden’s decarbonization agenda and could alienate climate voters in the upcoming presidential election.

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), the division of the DOT that issued the port license, said “the project would make the transport of oil safer for the public and the environment,” in a statement Wednesday.

“Under President Biden, the United States is making the largest ever investment in clean energy and climate action,” MARAD said. “While the Biden-Harris Administration is accelerating America’s transition to a clean energy future, action is also being taken to manage the transition in the near-term.”

The Sea Port project will include two 46-mile pipelines to carry crude from shore to the deepwater port, which is planned to be operational by 2027. Intended to reduce the need for ship-to-ship transfers of oil, SPOT will be built in 115-foot-deep water and be capable of filling crude oil tankers at a rate of 85,000 barrels of oil per hour.

MARAD first approved the terminal in late 2022, arguing that it would “benefit employment, economic growth and domestic energy infrastructure resilience.” But a coalition of environmental groups swiftly contested that approval, saying the port would create carbon emissions for coastal communities and further entrench the nation’s fossil fuel industry at a time when climate impacts are intensifying.

Environmental groups lamented last week’s decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding Biden’s earlier approval.

“It is in the national interest to halt, not promote, the proliferation of fossil fuel dependence through expanded crude exports that will increase oil spill risk and emissions of cancer-causing, climate-disrupting pollution, which SPOT would generate on a massive scale,” said Sierra Club senior attorney Devorah Ancel at the time.

Enterprise has defended the terminal’s environmental impacts, saying it will cut down on direct emissions related to crude oil export by replacing more than 900 ship-to-ship transfers per year.

“SPOT reduces operational risks, including those associated with reverse lightering, an unregulated process in which crude oil is offloaded from multiple smaller ships onto a larger vessel in federal waters off the U.S. Gulf Coast,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Limiting reverse lightering, combined with the SPOT platform’s state-of-the-art vapor combustion capabilities, would significantly reduce emissions.”