By Carl van Warmerdam
In the last few years whales stranded on the beaches of the East Coast have become common. In just the past two months there have been over a dozen. And that does not include the whales who have died in that time and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Fishermen blame industrial wind farm surveys, the wind industry blames climate change, and the vessel strikes of the global supply chains of civilization will not slow down. All the while mainstream “environmental” groups have become PR people for industrial energy. That stance is mutually exclusive from their professed goal to protect wildlife like desert tortoise, sage grouse, bats and to Save The Whales.
NOAA declared an official “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales in 2016, when the number of deaths on the East Coast more than doubled from the average in previous years. Coincidentally that is the same year when offshore wind development began, which coincides with the huge jump in NOAA Incidental Harassment Authorizations. The claim that this huge jump in mortality predates offshore wind preparation activities is patently false. This strong correlation is strong evidence of causation, especially since no other possible cause has appeared. It also seems odd that dead whales are now showing up on the west coast just as wind development is starting up there as well.
If what we are seeing is what happens during the surveying process for an offshore wind farm, we can only imagine what will happen when major construction begins. If vessel strikes are a leading cause of death, why on earth would you diminish habitat and increase vessel traffic with the construction of wind turbines? Yet in the recent denial of a vessel speed reduction, NOAA said it was “focused on implementing long-term, substantive vessel strike risk reduction measures.” Hopefully that will include the cancellation of any further wind farm construction. We certainly should not be increasing vessel traffic at this time, we should be restricting it. Vessel strikes and ocean noise from these extra ships and their sonar mapping is killing whales.
Noise interrupts the normal behavior of whales and interferes with their communication. It also reduces their ability to detect and avoid predators and human hazards, navigate, identify physical surroundings, find food and find mates. Such effects make it difficult for whales to avoid ships. It is one of NOAA’s four threats, along with vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements and climate change.
Sound travels farther and four times faster in water than in air (at a speed of almost 1,500 meters per second). The noise produced by humans can therefore spread considerable distances underwater. These sounds can be relatively constant, such as the noise produced by a ship’s engine and propeller, or sudden and acute in the case of naval sonar and seismic air guns. The sound produced by a seismic air gun can cause permanent hearing loss, tissue damage and even death in nearby animals.
Evidence for the lethal effects of noise can be hard to document in the open ocean, but seismic surveys have been linked to the mass mortality of squid and zooplankton. In 2017, research revealed that a single air gun caused the death rate of zooplankton to increase from 18% to 40–60% over a 1.2 kilometer stretch of the ocean off the coast of southern Tasmania.
Examination of the dead whales revealed they had suffered trauma similar to decompression sickness. This was believed to have been caused by sudden changes in their deep diving behavior following exposure to sonar. The wind companies are using sonar in the geotechnical and site characterization surveys. There is also the detonation of unexploded ordnance (UXO) items from ship wrecks at this time, accidental and intentional.
Noise increases animals’ physiological stress. Research found that a reduction in shipping following the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to a six decibel drop in noise levels in the Bay of Fundy on Canada’s Atlantic coast. This coincided with lower levels of physiological stress detected in North Atlantic right whales when researchers measured stress hormones from floating whale feces.
During construction of the turbines, high-duty cycle impact pile driving (one strike every ~two seconds) will be used. And the pile driving is expected to occur for approximately four hours at one time for monopile installation, and 6 hours per pile for piled jacket installation.
This takes us to the biggest threat to whales and the ocean ecosystem that they live in: climate change. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. These are created by industrial development. So climate change is a symptom of industrial development. That is the extractive industries of mining, deforestation, agriculture, factory fishing and dams which provide — through production, manufacture, transport, installation and operation — the current conveniences of a modern way of human life.
Industrial development destroys ecosystems. More industrial development, by the installation of thousands of offshore wind turbines, will not solve the problem of climate change. There’s one inescapable truth about the headlong rush to cover vast swaths of our countryside and oceans with 800-foot-high wind turbines: the more turbines that get built, the more wildlife will be harmed or killed. And no amount of greenwashing can change that fact. So it is distressing to see the numbers of whales washing up on our beaches. NOAA also says there is no proof that offshore wind is killing the whales. We must remember the onus isn’t on whales to prove guilt, it’s on industrial development to prove their innocence.
The production of the materials as well as the manufacturing processes for wind turbines and associated infrastructure of the extracted energy storage and transmission are made possible by burning fossil fuels. To obtain the raw material used in wind turbines, habitat is destroyed through open pit mining and mountaintop removal. The raw materials are then transported to processing plants to be turned into the component parts. It will take a tremendous amount of energy to mine the materials; transport and transform them through industrial processes like smelting; turn them into wind turbines, batteries, infrastructure and industrial machinery; install all of the above; and do this at a sufficient scale to replace our current fossil-fuel-based industrial system. In the early stages of the process, this energy will have to come mostly from fossil fuels, since they supply about 80 percent of current global energy. Their emissions will be added to the current use emissions. After manufacture, the turbine parts need to be transported to the project location. The construction and operation of offshore wind farms increase boat traffic, also leading to more greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. All of which adds to a non-existent carbon budget and thus increasing climate change. Not to mention the increased risk of marine mammal vessel strikes.
All of that energy use has a carbon payback period to plan, build, maintain and decommission the processes involved in an offshore wind turbine and its required infrastructure amounting to many years. This could be up to a quarter of its expected lifecycle. But this does not take into account the wildlife loss and habitat destruction from those processes. And then in 20 years the process must be done all over again. So this is not renewable. Also there are not enough metals on the planet to produce even the first generation of a total electric energy extracting transition, even if we mine the deep sea as we are starting to do.
Currently only 20% of our energy is electric. The other 80% is fossil fuel, the bulk of which is used by industry. The industrial advantage of fossil fuel is that it is stored energy that is extracted rather than an energy extracting device that requires storage and transmission infrastructure.
The paradox of “renewables” is that they need unprecedented volumes of non-renewable mined materials. Increasing “renewables” means large upticks in battery metals such as copper, cobalt, lithium and nickel. Wind turbines need rare earth metals such as neodymium of which there are scarce amounts. But the work wouldn’t stop there.
Closed mines themselves are a huge source of devastation. If all mining stopped today there would still be an area at least the size of Austria with degrading and, in some cases, dangerous levels of heavy metals. Mining brings materials that have been locked up in concentrations underground and lets them out into the world. Mines usually operate at depths below the water table — they need to be constantly dewatered using pumps. When a mine is abandoned, the ground water gradually re-floods underground passages and mineral seams over many months, creating acidic reservoirs of water. Above ground there are tailings ponds and piles of low-grade ore with traces of heavy metals. All of this material is exposed to oxygen and water. Exposing such elements wreaks havoc on ecosystems, soils and water supplies through acid leaching. A mine that is abandoned can have chronic pollution for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Cleaning up a mine consists of reducing water acidity, detoxifying the soil and treating waste before reintroducing flora and fauna to the site. It’s a lengthy, expensive process and can cost billions for a single large mine. Avoiding an environmental catastrophe and cleaning all the world’s mines at once would cost hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars. So mining the materials needed for renewable energy will increase the threats to biodiversity. These threats will surpass those avoided by “renewable” climate change mitigation.
The concept of material footprints, in addition to carbon footprints, should be taken into consideration by governments. If not, the planet’s scarce non-renewable resources will continue to be destroyed. These factors will more than offset BOEMs calculations for climate change in the DEIS.
During their operation wind turbines create a disturbance in the air that can have far-reaching effects on the environment. The turbulence created is known to warm up the surface temperature around them by up to 2℉. This will change the climate by taking away the cooling breeze. Wind turbines will change weather patterns and currents which will create more and stronger storms.
Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said whales face “a suite of risks” as turbines are built, such as increased vessel traffic and potential changes to the ecology. But that ecological change, he said, “needs significant further study to truly understand its significance.”
As Sunrise Wind admits, their planned construction and operations activities are not expected to “take” MORE than small numbers of marine mammals. They say incidental long-term impacts that have negative effects on large whales from the presence of turbine foundations is uncertain. For the right whale, according to NOAA Fisheries, “The potential biological removal level for the species, defined as the maximum number of animals that can be removed annually while allowing the stock to reach or maintain its optimal sustainable population level, is less than 1.” This means the death of a single right whale could make the difference between extinction and recovery.
There is no question wind turbines kill wildlife. Humans and domestic animals account for 96% mammal biomass on the planet. Only 4% is wild. Our activity has reduced the biomass of wild marine and terrestrial mammals by six times. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens all life on the planet.
Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said that the “destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.”
Jennifer Jacquet, a professor of environmental studies at New York University, said, “But we know that even in the face of a shifting climate, direct exploitation remains the largest factor affecting aquatic animals.”
BOEM is basing its conclusions in the DEIS on a false analysis that offshore wind turbines will reduce climate change. They will not. It makes no sense to increase disturbance to whales when they are suffering through an unusual mortality event. Whales as a keystone species are the canary in the coal mine. As they go, so do we. That in the effort to save the climate and continuance of business as usual, we are destroying the environment. If this offshore wind project continues, it will be humans who experience an unusual mortality event.
Public comment on the Sunrise Wind Project ends February 14th: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/BOEM-2022-0071-0001
Public comment on the New England Wind Project ends February 21st: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/BOEM-2022-0070-0001
Carl van Warmerdam has lived his life on the West Coast of Turtle Island. He has always aligned with the counter culture ideals there. Now he currently lives on the coast of New England, the ancestral home of the North Atlantic Right Whale. If you would like to help Save the Whales email Lafongcarl@protonmail.com. We stopped offshore wind before, we can do it again.