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Pile Driving: Offshore Wind’s Ecological Problem (Popper interview in Phys.Org)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 17, 2024

“The construction of wind farms … on the East Coast of the United States … is a big issue because it is a source of considerable noise.” (Arthur Popper, below)

In Phys.Org, Emily Nunez (University of Maryland) recently interviewed Arthur N. Popper, professor emeritus, University of Maryland’s Department of Biology, a specialist in the ecological impacts of underwater sound. “Offshore wind farms can be an energy boon,” she begins the article, “but does their noisy construction bother marine animals?”

She introduces the issue as follows:

… Popper … worries that the use of pile driving to construct offshore wind turbines could potentially harm fishes. Only two offshore wind farms are operational in the United States, but many more are in the works, including two projects planned for Maryland’s waters and a third project approved for construction off the coast of Virginia. Across the U.S., interest in wind farms is growing, but Popper noted that researchers still don’t know much about their effect on marine life.

Quotations follow from the Q&A: Does noisy construction of offshore wind farms disturb marine animals?.

“Marine animals depend heavily on sound. Sound is one of the few communication signals that travel quickly across long distances in the oceans and are not stopped by low light levels or objects in the environment…. To get a long-distance, 360-degree view of what’s going on around them, sound is the best form of communication.”

“Human-generated sounds can potentially interfere with the ability of fishes and invertebrates to hear sounds of biological importance to them, such as the sounds of potential mates or predators…. Anything we’re doing in the ocean—from pile driving to shipping to wind farms—has a potential impact on vast populations of animals and their reproductive capabilities.”

“Wind farms are becoming a big thing on the East Coast of the United States, and I’m consulting with different groups that are involved in developing and regulating wind farms.”

“The construction of wind farms is a big issue because it is a source of considerable noise. In some places in Europe, they don’t drive piles into the substrate to support the wind farms. They let them float and use big weights and cables to keep them in place. But in the United States, at least on the East Coast, I haven’t heard of that happening.”

The politically incorrect direction of the interview requires (this is mainstream academia/media) a but-wind-power-is-good set-up question from Nunez instead of a public policy question such as “should offshore wind projects be paused in the name of the precautionary principle?” Her question is: “Is it possible to have the best of both worlds: to promote sustainable energy while also protecting marine life?”

And Popper obliges:

My guess is that it is totally possible. Wind farms are useful sources of power. They don’t cause pollution, they’re not taking up space on shore and they produce a good deal of energy. There are some real advantages, but we need to learn a lot more about their impact on marine life.

Final Comment

Offshore wind is an uber-uneconomic, government-enabled endeavor in the U.S. It duplicates the (onshore) grid while weakening it. It requires innumerable installations compared to the (economic) concentrated operations of offshore oil and gas platforms. Wind literally ‘machines up’, industrializes, pristine coastal waters from an ecological viewpoint.

Private ownership of water areas is one approach to deciding between competing priorities. But what is radically uneconomic would not be on this list.

One Comment for “Pile Driving: Offshore Wind’s Ecological Problem (Popper interview in Phys.Org)”

  1. Ed Reid  

    The wind industry worldwide seems to be having difficulty with the “sustainability” of turbine blades, gearboxes and even towers.

    The requests for renegotiation of contracts tells a story, as does the refusal of states to renegotiate.

    The Dominion reaction to the VSCC proposed minimum performance requirement tells another story.

    Increased subsidies might reduce consumer cost increases, but they increase societal cost, especially when funded through borrowing.



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