Can you imagine the outcry if an oil and gas company was given legal permission to injure hundreds of whales and thousands of other marine mammals such as dolphins in pursuit of offshore drilling? For maximum Greta-inspired wailing, the oil field could be located in the middle of territory where the last 300 North Atlantic right whales congregate, and a permit is in place to potentially harm 20 members. In May, Vineyard Wind will begin building a massive offshore wind farm numbering 62 giant turbines, 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. Permits to harass sea creatures have been secured – not a squeak of concern from green activists and mainstream media.
The Vineyard Wind project is only a small part of the planned industrialisation of America’s eastern coastal waters, as the Biden Administration ramps up a commitment to so-called green energy. Of course it is not green, and many now argue that it is becoming increasingly clear that the most valuable economic transfers gained from wind are the subsidies it attracts from electricity consumers.
The Vineyard Wind project will take about a year to complete and will include sonar surveying, massive pile-driving and considerable disturbance of the sea bed. All these activities are likely to harm or injure marine life. Dr. Patrick Moore helped found Greenpeace around 50 years ago and was heavily involved in the campaign to ban commercial whaling. Since 2016, he notes, when sonar surveying started for a planned 1,500 wind turbines on the U.S. Atlantic coast, 174 humpback whales have washed up dead on the shore, an increase of 400% from previous years. He quotes Greenpeace as stating: “At this time, due to lack of evidence suggesting harm from offshore wind development, Greenpeace’s position remains that the best way to protect whales is to create ocean sanctuaries, eliminate single use plastic and stop our dependency on oil and gas.”
If there is no evidence of harm to sea mammals from offshore wind, it is not immediately clear why Vineyard Wind found it necessary to secure a permit to injure thousands of animals during construction of its industrial complex. The permit was issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The table below details the species that can be injured up to “Level B harassment” and is titled, “Authorised Numbers of Take, by Species”.
Threats to animals leading to possible injury and death are likely to occur from many causes in what is a huge construction site. Many such casualties are unlikely to be recorded. Heavy traffic on the surface is likely to lead to collisions, while pile-driving poles up to 30 feet in diameter hundreds of feet into the ground will create deafening noise. Engineers working on industrial sites can wear ear protections. Whales and dolphins cannot.
According to Tethys, the U.S. Department of Energy marine renewables database, sound propagates farther and faster in water than in air, which can result in greater consequences for the marine environment. It goes on to note:
Noise may interfere with marine organisms’ communication, navigation, detection of prey, and ability to interact with the environment, as well as causing attraction to or avoidance of devices. Additionally, some marine organisms may be physically harmed from excessive noise exposure (e.g., tissue and nerve damage).
Not a squeak from green activists, as noted, and a deafening silence from mainstream media. According to a Google search, the only mention of Vineyard Wind in the Guardian was in 2021, when it reported approval for the construction. Space was given to the comment from Biden’s Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, that the project, “was an important step towards advancing the Administration’s goals to create good-paying union jobs, while combatting climate change and powering our nation”. Around the same time, HuffPost contented itself with the headline: “Climate Deniers Exploit Endangered Whales in Bid to Kill Offshore Wind”.
Charles Mayo is the Director of the Right Whale Ecology Programme at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown. He notes the danger for right whales around human industrial traffic, since they can dive for 15 minutes and be difficult to spot. But Mayo is able to rationalise any concerns, stating: “The future of right whales and these ecosystems is dependent on climate change. We have to change our use of fossil fuels and from what I know, the only solution that has the economic power to actually work at the scale of the problem is offshore wind.” Interestingly, the Save Right Whales Coalition notes that Vineyard Wind was listed as a CCS corporate donor in 2018, and was a corporate sponsor in 2020 and 2021.
Of course, it has long been obvious that green industrialists get a free pass when it comes to assessing the impact of their technologies on the natural world. Batteries to store the power of intermittent wind and solar rely on cobalt mined by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oil and gas is likely to last hundreds of years, but there aren’t enough critical minerals in the world to make lithium ion batteries much past 2050. If offshore wind turbines are an ecological disaster, so are those located onshore. There is growing evidence that millions of bats are being slaughtered every year by them, and numbers are likely to grow as more turbines are built. In addition, large birds such as eagles, kites and owls that rely on wind currents are often caught out by the enormous air fluctuations of windmills, and few live to tell the tale after encountering blade tips that can fly around at 150mph.
Meanwhile, fracking for gas on land is effectively banned in many countries. In the U.K., local fracked gas could replace the country’s large imports and bring considerable economic benefit to deprived areas in the North of England. Pressure to ban has been enormous from both green activists such as Friends of the Earth and mainstream media. No endangered whales would be harmed by fracking, but a few ground-level insects might be inconvenienced. There is also is a danger that micro earth tremors, equivalent to someone falling off a chair, might result.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.