Many people used to think serving on city council wasn’t worth a bucket of warm piss, as Roosevelt’s first vice president, John Garner, famously described his job.
These council meetings were perceived as petty stuff when compared to the daily babble-dazzle about NFL gladiators and their owners, themselves the very soul of welfare capitalism. Sewers, gutters, zoning, budgets and taxation used to be the principal domain of city councils, with a little larceny thrown in now and then as reward—maybe a new driveway or remodeled bathroom from a favor-seeking contractor. In Colorado, city council members are sometimes paid a feeble $5,000 a year, but in smaller towns it may be nothing. Public service is its own reward.
Most people might rather watch an evening of Survivor reruns than go to a council meeting in their city. But not anymore. Not in Colorado since the invasion—or threat of invasion—by the oil industry into cities and towns up and down the Front Range. Colorado city council chambers now are flooded with citizens outraged by the regal indifference of the industry and their swarm of drones who are found at every level of local government, right up to the Governor himself, John Hickenlooper, who bragged to Congress not long ago that fracking fluid was safe to drink. He knew because he had drunk some to no ill effect. This caused a local wag to proclaim, “the jury’s still out until somebody does an independent study of the Gov’s brain function, ’cause there’s obviously some crazy chemistry working up there.”
The industry’s ace-in-the-hole is a mind-numbing determination by the Colorado Supreme Court back in 1992 that local citizen rights, including the rights of self-determination, are subservient to oil and gas mineral rights and profits. Many see the decision’s "looking glass" logic as a full frontal attack on the rights of the governed and the constitutional guarantees associated with Colorado home rule cities and towns.
Chief among the court’s arguments was the proposition that for the state’s oil resources to be developed to their maximum, cities and towns couldn’t be allowed to establish their own set of rules. The court reasoned that might discourage development of the state’s resources. What these arithmetically challenged men and women in black didn’t account for is the fact that the cities and towns of Colorado, all of them, constitute less than two percent of the state’s land base. The other 98 percent is available and would seem to provide adequate opportunity for development, and exploitation.
The assault Greeley, CO, is undergoing because of this court decision should be frightening to the citizens of every city underlain by shale deposits. This includes Denver proper, which has largely missed the debate up to now. Indeed, the limited open space available to the industry within cities will result in highly concentrated, heavy industrial, polluting and environmentally exempt oil colonies, as Greeley’s experience reveals.
From the standpoint of local control and dispersed governmental powers, Colorado is a strong home rule state. The framers of the Colorado Constitution were strenuously opposed to monopoly capitalism—to concentrated wealth buying control of the government. The railroad barons and oil trusts provided ready proof of the danger. Neither did the founding fathers trust centralized government. It could be too easily bought.
That is why, in Colorado, the water of the state is owned by the people, not the state. The framers thought the people would be harder to buy off. But even that control against monopoly interest hasn’t been entirely successful as the courts and the legislature have been chipping away at the public’s greatest asset for years.
So when you read the 1992 opinion and compare it to the clear language of the state constitution one shouldn’t be totally surprised. Disgusted perhaps, but not surprised. The constitution says that the ordinances adopted by home rule cities … “shall supersede within the territorial limits and other jurisdiction of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith,” Colorado Constitution, Article XX, Section 6.
Ironically it was the city of Greeley that first attempted to stop oil drilling inside its city limits under its home rule powers. The 1992 case is the result.
For the people of Greeley that 1992 court decision has meant the presence of 426 wells within the city, but all are of the old (before horizontal fracking) variety. A total of 1,600 are rumored to be on the planning horizon, but only the industry knows. The state has no master plan, none is envisioned, and by virtue of the 1992 decision, the cities have little say.
As I wrote several weeks ago, the Greeley city council, despite the tearful reasoned arguments of concerned mothers and the untearful reasoned arguments of medical and science professionals, approved the drilling of 16 horizontal wells only 350 feet from homes in a development called Fox Run, and about 200 feet from some businesses, shown as Sheep Hollow on the location map. The new rules taking affect on August 1 will require a 500-foot setback from residences, with a 1,000-foot setback from hospitals, schools and high density housing. But the early approval voids these new setback standards.
Guess what? The same oil company, Mineral Resources, Inc., is right back at it. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency with dictatorial power over people and cities on all matters oil and gas, approved two new drilling proposals within the city, one for 67 horizontal wells on a pad, and another for 37 wells. A local company, Mineral Resources has been busy for a number of years buying the city out from underneath the residents, unbeknownst to most of them.
Arlo Richardson, the CEO of Mineral Resources, made a tidy fortune, apparently, running a vending machine company before selling out and making a seamless transition to urban oil baron. In purchasing the surface rights to the property shown in Illustration 1, Mid City, several years ago, Mr Richardson said they needed the property because they “couldn’t just drill in people’s back yards.”
Readers should decide for themselves whether the people in the 23 neighborhood homes counted in the survey, impersonally termed houses by Mineral Resources, are in harms way. Readers might also want to know if the census boundaries from a public health standpoint shouldn’t be expanded to one mile since a recent study by Dr. Theo Colborn (unfortunately the only peer reviewed study of its kind). The study recorded air borne chemicals and pollutants a mile away from a single well site, with measurements actually increasing once drilling ceased and operations began. Many of the chemicals Dr. Colborn measured have no established health limits, but this does not mean that they aren’t potentially harmful. Not knowing does not mean they are safe. For example, most people, with maybe the exception of Gov. Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Greeley’s city council, would not argue that because you’ve never been struck by a Black Mamba, you can conclude that no harm would come to you if you were to be.
Some might wonder, too, if the home, simply shown in Kafkaesque fashion as House Number 37 on the map, isn’t a little close to the drill site by any reasonable standard of habitation. It might even be considered by some to be in their back yard. The draftsman for Energy Resources, doing some fancy figuring, list it as being almost 500 feet from the drill site. To the eye it looks to be somewhere between 50 and 100 feet away from the drilling site boundary. House Number 63 is even closer, perhaps only a few feet from the site boundary. The legend shows the home to be unoccupied. It will almost certainly become abandoned if the plan becomes reality, for the site’s only access road would be about 100 feet away.
Try to visualize what it would be like to witness the continual roar of 18-wheelers delivering and then removing water, chemicals, sand, pipe, heavy equipment, etc. The truck trips alone required to drill 37 wells and the other necessary equipment such as storage tanks, well heads, separators and flares—all of which emit methane and other chemicals, might come to over 64,000 truck trips. Since all the 37 wells would probably not be drilled at once, but in increments of four to five at a time, the neighborhood could expect 24/7, Kleig lights turning night into day, heavy noise from drilling and rumbling trucks, and constant dust laced with chemicals. They can expect this in two to three week increments, several times a year, over two to three years, maybe longer. And even after production was in full throttle the neighborhood might still witness another 6,000 production trips annually.
Though the state continues to ignore studies like Dr. Colborn’s, it promises its own study someday, but urges caution so as not to pillory the industry with incomplete data. This was the message of the state’s head of Public Health and the Environment, Dr. Chris Urbina, as he represented the state, successfully, in opposing a legislative plan to start collecting data on medical reports from citizens living or working near oil and gas developments. Fortunately, he resigned last week, but not because it was discovered he didn’t understand the Hippocratic oath.
If you accept the anti-Utilitarian argument of doing the most bad to the most people, the 12 apartment houses directly to west of the drill site fit this model. The first row of eight apartments is roughly 300 feet from the well site boundary. The four behind are about 400 feet from the boundary. Each apartment contains eight living units, 96 in all.
At the bottom left is the University of Northern Colorado's housing complex for married students. There are 98 two-bedroom apartments in this complex. The complex is approximately 400 feet away at the nearest point and three blocks east of the main campus. The new rules going into effect on Aug. 1 would require a 1,000 foot setback unless a variance were granted.
The mineral rights under the married student housing and other parts of the university, 246 acres in all, were leased to Energy Resources a couple of years ago. Deeply flawed though they are, rights to oil and gas on federal and state land must be bought at open auction. The lease of the university mineral rights was done without competitive bid. University president Kay Norton, after looking at how much the Richardsons already owned of the subsurface of the city decided it was best to go with that company.
She reasoned that her experience in the private sector gave her the background necessary to make a command decision about the use of public property. She had previously worked as counsel for the Monfort’s of Greeley, a slaughter house and meat packing company. She said the Richardsons were “family,” “great friends to the university,” and that “it was personal with them,” whatever that means. She went on to describe their operation as “boutique.” Arlo Richardson describes his operation as “niche.”
His description is more accurate it would seem, but his type of niche operation also gives the lie to the claims of Tisha Schuller, CEO of the industy’s Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Her claim is that one of the first virtues of horizontal fracking is its reduced surface footprint. She is fond of saying that on the west slope some pads had more than 50 vertical or directional wells on them, but with horizontals one might see six to eight.
The second of the Mineral Resource sites approved last week is establishing a new high in concentrated, heavy industrial oil mining within a city. The site’s 67 wells, shown as South Greeley on the location map, establishes a new potential high for Colorado anywhere, city or no city, and so much for the reduced footprint gambit.
Cementing Richardson’s claim to niche-dom is the recent spill of more than 4,000 gallons of chemically laced flow-back liquid from a drilling operation at their Island Park site in Greeley with 27 permitted wells. Clean up so far has resulted in the removal of 70 cubic yards of contaminated material—presumably to a local land fill since the material, no matter what is in it, is considered non-hazardous under federal environmental laws. This drill site is only 150 from the Poudre River, a national heritage site, and even less distance from a trailer park.
From a human impact perspective, one is drawn to the school at the top of the illustration, Frontier Academy Charter Elementary School. It houses more than 600 students, kindergarten through sixth grade, and is less than 500 feet from the well pad boundary. The new rules would require a thousand foot setback, and one must presume Mineral Resources is aware that by getting approval before Aug. 1 they are exempted from the new rules. A Walmart is also located nearby, as are a number of other warehouses and businesses. Habitat for Humanity’s warehouse may have to be draped in crepe, or renamed.
It may occur to some that such massive industrialization, as these permits endorse, should have undergone strenuous internal environmental review, particularly with regard to air quality since it is known that large amounts of methane and volatile organic compounds escape from fracked oil and gas operations, and that Greeley is in the state’s Ozone non-attainment area. According to a recent University of Colorado study, methane escaping from natural gas operations is responsible for 55 percent of the ozone in this area—sunlight converts methane to ozone. Add to this that Cornell University scientists' estimate that horizontal fracking leaks 40 to 60 percent more methane into the atmosphere than conventionally fracked wells. At some point the convergence of this information should cause reflection under the precautionary principle.
But the state remains unconcerned, since these wells will employ storage tanks and other technology, called green completion, for holding the chemically laced wastewater and flaring off some of the fugitive methane. Under this scenario, no further review is required by the state. Cumulative impacts are religiously ignored. And this is what the industry and state call the toughest regulations in the nation. Pity the nation, but pity the people of Greeley even more.
With regards to truck traffic and water use the South Greeley site would require almost double the truck trips and material required for the Mid Town site since it has almost twice the wells. It’s quite possible that given the volume of water required the city might extend city water lines to these sites. Even so, about 50,000 truck trips would be needed during construction and 10,000 truck trips annually during operations to collect oil and wastewater. Some might consider this significant from a local and regional impact standpoint.
The water requirements for the 104 wells at the two sites, 5 million gallons per well, would come to about 1,8000 acre-feet, spread over several years. Annually, this would be enough water for the domestic use of 18,000 people. It would be enough for 6,000 people annually if it were spread over three years running. Greeley has reportedly made a handsome profit selling water to the industry the last few years. Last year it pocketed $1.5 million in water sales to oil and gas. It received far less from agricultural users though according to reports it sold 10 times the amount of water to them. State law prohibits hoarding and speculation in water, but somebody has to enforce it.
There is an old German proverb that says, “birds of prey don’t sing,” but in Greeley and surrounding Weld County, they have learned to squawk. Tom Norton, the Mayor of Greeley, and former president of the state senate (also Kay Norton’s husband) is the leader of a rebellion among the political elite and large landowners in Weld and four other north eastern Colorado counties to secede from Colorado and form their own state. The stated reasons are they are tired of the over regulation of the oil industry by the state. More recently the issue of water regulation has surfaced, too.
Still, the water issue alone should give these folks great pause. They could very well end up like Nevada in the Colorado River Compact. With no headwaters and little population, they might find themselves cut out from most of the water in the Platte River, about 5 million acre-feet annually, much of it used by these seceding counties to raise corn ethanol. Impacted, too, might be their use of the publicly funded Colorado Big Thompson Project, which imports water from the Colorado River. The new state might find it impossible to make the argument that they are entitled to that water since they are not part of the Colorado River Compact. Resistance from the seven existing compact state to a new entitlement for a new, non-compact state would be more than fierce. With the rest of Colorado already short of water, some might be licking their chops at the miscalculation by the few.
How few and how out of touch they are would surely be learned in the vote to secede. A statewide vote would be required. The unrest of the local population may begin to be measured when Energy Resources, Inc., comes before the city council in the near future seeking a Special Review exemption for their 104 new wells. Because the state has already approved the drilling proposals, they are exempted from the new setback standards. The city council will be looking, primarily, at whether the new wells are compatible with their 2020 Comprehensive Plan for the city. It states in part that:
Assuring the development of a safe and pleasant community; improving the visual appeal of the community; ... [to] Disallow high impact agricultural and heavy industrial land uses that generate obnoxious influences, such as noise, fumes or hazards.
When the city council was confronted with 16 wells at Sheep Draw several weeks ago, they voted (7-0) in favor of approval. This was despite overwhelming opposition from an overflow crowd of citizens.
Imagine the reaction when the public learns of another 104 new wells to be followed by hundreds and hundreds more, presumably. The people are fast realizing that Greeley is becoming an oil colony for the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many. It is why blogs like Frack City, USA have surfaced to treat the details of what is going on in the city. It follows the example of many others up and down the front range of Colorado.
A Tsunami of public outrage is coming.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Suresh Dhaniyala and Byron Erath
A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 10 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
Airborne Particles Are Still the Biggest Problem<p>The <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-it-matters-that-the-coronavirus-is-changing-and-what-this-means-for-vaccine-effectiveness-152383" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 variants</a> are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.</p><p>When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021850211001200?casa_token=KtyrsEfbeqcAAAAA:vv10sSxm33tzg0EQvNMIFtV7GCu5gE9QAzuyzHKr2_4Cl0OFkUJoGwzn4d0ZnEWS19NsOTuH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1-100 micrometers</a>. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.</p><p>The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/50/5/693/325466" target="_blank">hours at a time</a>.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bb67b83dcafe589f350daf3df60fa29d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UNCNM7AZPFg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What Can You Do to Stay Safe?<p>1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.</p><p>Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it's important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.</p><p>When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352431620301802?casa_token=-Dj6nGBAm24AAAAA:qq9BpbzCKaPDFcV73ohA2fCnhE_Zlkss6Bei3kUwq9QYndhHj0Vafbbd-ef_855lx6knDfUt" target="_blank">multiple layers of material</a> are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decrease the effectiveness by 50%</a>.</p><p>2) Follow social distancing guidelines.</p><p>While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-a-smoky-bar-can-teach-us-about-the-6-foot-rule-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-145517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">6 feet isn't always enough</a> – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious <a href="https://medical.mit.edu/faqs/COVID-19#faq-10" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">before they start showing symptoms</a>, and they many never show symptoms, so don't count on seeing signs of illness.</p><p>3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.</p><p>Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-a-smoky-bar-can-teach-us-about-the-6-foot-rule-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-145517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing ventilation rates</a> to bring in <a href="https://theconversation.com/keeping-indoor-air-clean-can-reduce-the-chance-of-spreading-coronavirus-149512" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fresh air and filtering existing air</a> to dilute aerosol concentrations.</p><p>On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it's important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.</p><p>The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7003e2.htm?s_cid=mm7003e2_w" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant</a> in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in <a href="https://virological.org/t/genomic-characterisation-of-an-emergent-sars-cov-2-lineage-in-manaus-preliminary-findings/586" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Brazil</a> and <a href="https://www.who.int/csr/don/31-december-2020-sars-cov2-variants/en/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">South Africa</a>. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.</p>
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By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
Threats to Birds<p>One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten <a href="https://www.audubon.org/2019climateissue" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species</a>. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.</p><p>The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.</p><p>Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.</p><p>"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."</p><p>Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308703197_Possible_impacts_of_offshore_wind_farms_on_seabirds_a_pilot_study_in_Northern_Gannets_in_the_southern_North_Sea" target="_blank">habitat displacement</a>.</p>
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>"There's <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">some evidence</a> that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141113620305304" target="_blank">study</a> published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.</p><p>Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">attracted to wind developments</a> and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.</p><p>"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.</p><p>Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.</p><p>But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.</p><p>Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."</p>
Threats to Ocean Life<p>Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.</p><p>Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.</p><p>The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045101" target="_blank">not all cases</a>, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.</p><p>The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.</p><p>"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.</p><p>Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.</p><p>"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.</p><p>And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.</p><p>There are a few other potential threats, too.</p><p>Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.</p>
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10<p>And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.</p><p>Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, <a href="http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v309/p279-295/" target="_blank">research has found</a>.</p><p>And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's <a href="https://dosits.org/animals/effects-of-sound/anthropogenic-sources/wind-turbine/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Discovery of Sound in the Sea</a> program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.</p>
Ensuring Safe Development<p>Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.</p><p>When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of <a href="https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/vessel-speed-limits-sought-protect-endangered-north-atlantic-right-whales-2020-08-06/" target="_blank">10 knots</a> in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.</p><p>Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.</p><p>For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.</p><p>Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a <a href="https://composites.umaine.edu/2020/08/05/diamond-offshore-wind-rwe-renewables-join-the-university-of-maine-to-lead-development-of-maine-floating-offshore-wind-demonstration-project/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demonstration project is being built</a>.</p><p>If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.</p>
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/harnessing-wind-advance-wind-power-offshore-ib.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers reported</a>. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.</p><p>"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."</p><p>That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.</p><p>Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.</p>
Putting Research Into Action<p>Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.</p><p>"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.</p><p>And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.</p><p>"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.</p><p>President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy <em>and</em> birds, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/climate/trump-migratory-bird-protections.html" target="_blank">and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act</a> in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.</p><p>There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.</p><p>New York, for example, has established an <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Technical Working Group</a> composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.</p><p>The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.</p><p>New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/announcements" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">requires developers</a> to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.</p><p>Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.</p><p>The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.</p><p>"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."</p><p>Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.</p><p>"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."</p><p>Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.</p><p>"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."</p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/offshore-wind-wildlife" target="_blank" style="">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
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