“Granted, the acoustic pollution caused by sonar – particularly powerful navy systems – is greater than that from wind turbines. But wind turbine noise is nearly constant, lasts as long as the turbines and comes from multiple directions, as in the area where the whales were recently stranded.”
“We would be far better off simply ending wayward, wasteful offshore wind energy programs. The free market can neuter wind short of the assessing the environmental damage.”
Between January 9 and February 4, 2016, twenty-nine sperm whales got stranded and died on English, German and Dutch beaches. Environmentalists and the news media have offered all manner of explanations – except the most obvious and likely one: Offshore wind farms. Indeed, the area has Europe’s and the world’s biggest concentration of offshore wind turbines, and there is ample evidence that they can interfere with whale communication and navigation.
Britain’s Guardian is one newspaper that looked for answers everywhere but in the right place. That’s not surprising, as it tends to support wind energy whatever the cost to people or the environment.
After consulting with a marine environmental group, the paper concluded:
The North Sea acts as a trap.… It’s virtually impossible for [sperm whales] to find their way out through the narrow English Channel.
Not likely at all. These intelligent animals would naturally have found their way to and through the Channel simply by following the coast of England or continental Europe.
The author of this miss-piece seems to recognize that his contorted argument doesn’t square. He next says, “The [trapped] whales become dehydrated because they obtain their water from squid.” But then he acknowledges that “the dead Dutch and German animals were found to be well-fed,” and indeed the North Sea’s squid population has increased in recent years – due to climate change, he suggests.
(Of course The Guardian had to bring up manmade climate change. But at least the paper attributed something beneficial to this all-purpose phenomenon, as opposed to the usual litany of pernicious impacts, such as making dogs depressed, causing them to destroy furniture!)
The article next discards Royal Navy sonar and explosives, because “big naval exercises in UK waters are unusual in midwinter.” Finally, the author concludes with this quote from his purported expert: “When there’s a mass stranding, it’s always wise to look at possible human effects. But, at the moment, I don’t see anything pointing in that direction.” He should look a bit harder.
Suspicions, Negative Linkages Growing
Others clearly see a potential human connection. “Researchers at the University of St. Andrews have found that the noise made by offshore wind farms can interfere with a whale’s sonar, and can in tragic cases see them driven onto beaches where they often die,” a UK Daily Mail article observed.
It is certainly possible that permanent damage to the cetaceans’ middle and inner ears can result during the construction of offshore wind farms, when piles are driven into the rock bed. Wind promoters themselves admit that their pile-driving can be heard up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) underwater, and can be harmful to whales within a couple of kilometers.
Middle ear injuries sometimes cause external bleeding out of the ear. When they do not, they are much more difficult to detect, but damage has been documented with navy exercises. Natural phenomena such as seaquakes, underwater volcanic eruptions and meteorites crashing into the oceans can have the same effect. That might help explain “natural” whale strandings around the world and throughout history. But there can be little doubt that naval exercises, offshore oil exploration and wind farms add to the toll.
“Military exercises using mid-frequency sonar have been linked quite clearly to the disorientation and death of beaked whales,” says The Guardian. Low frequency sonar can be even more dangerous, the Natural Resource Defense Council asserts.
“Some systems operate at more than 235 decibels,” the NRDC has said, “producing sound waves that can travel across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. During testing off the California coast, noise from the Navy’s main low-frequency sonar system was detected across the breadth of the northern Pacific Ocean.” That claim is the basis for NRDC’s campaign against naval sonar use.
The U.S. Navy itself has recognized the danger that sonar systems represent for marine mammals. As reported in Science magazine:
In a landmark study, the U.S. Navy has concluded that it killed at least six whales in an accident involving common ship-based sonars. The finding, announced late last month by the Navy and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), may complicate Navy plans to field a powerful new sonar system designed to detect enemy submarines at long distances.
It has been said the “low-frequency active sonar” from this system would be the loudest sound ever put into the seas, The Guardian states.
Offshore wind turbines also emit low frequency sounds, in the air and water, via the resonance of their masts, blades and generators. These vibrations are transmitted via their masts to the water and via the pilings into the rock bed. They can travel up to 50 kilometers (31 miles).
Granted, the acoustic pollution caused by sonar – particularly powerful navy systems – is greater than that from wind turbines. But wind turbine noise is nearly constant, lasts as long as the turbines and comes from multiple directions, as in the area where the whales were recently stranded.
As the wind industry continues to deny culpability, evidence is mounting that low frequency and infrasound emitted by their turbines have significant adverse effects on people, including sleeplessness, headaches and over a dozen other ailments. To suppose whales do not suffer similar harm defies logic, physiology and health science.
Loud noises and infrasound pollution from offshore wind turbines could certainly be disorienting for cetaceans. They might panic and seek refuge in shallow waters, where low tides could surprise them, as large pelagic species have limited experience with tidal flows.
As scientists have pointed out: “It is likely that acoustic masking by anthropogenic sounds is having an increasingly prevalent impact on animals’ access to acoustic information that is essential for communication and other important activities such as navigation and prey/predator detection.”
Submarines and surface warships are being told they must reduce or cease their use of sonar for detecting enemy threats and underwater obstacles, regardless of national security and defense needs, because of possible harm to whales, porpoises and other marine mammals.
In stark and indefensible contrast, enormous offshore wind turbines continue to get a free pass from bird, bat, whale and other species protection laws. The blanket-exemption treatment is based on increasingly questionable assertions that wind turbines reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that supposedly cause global warming, climate change, extreme weather events and an amazing number of dog, people, Italian pasta, prostitution and other exaggerated or imaginary problems, plus others that exist only in computer models whose forecasts and scenarios bear no resemblance to Real World conditions or events.
Subsidies/Exemptions Enable Offshore Turbines
As risk consultant Edgar Gaertner has pointed out, Europeans are compelled to pay 20 cents per kWh of offshore wind electricity generated, plus an additional 5 cents per kWh for transmission, regardless of whether the electricity is needed at the moment it is generated. The economic impacts are significant.
And yet we are being told we must subsidize these behemoths – which produce relatively little power – at huge costs to families, businesses, hospitals, factories and other energy consumers. Indeed, in Europe the price of electricity is forcing entire industries to close down, including aluminum, ceramics and steel, for minimal reductions in Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions, and none worldwide since the shuttered industries simply move to other countries where emission controls and electricity generation efficiencies are much lower.
Modern 8-megawatt turbines are 200 meters (656 feet) above the waves; their rotating blades sweep across a 164-meter (538-foot) diameter. The blades weigh 35 tons apiece, and the nacelles are some 390 tons each. Installing, maintaining, disassembling and replacing these components must be done using large jack-up platforms, which is tricky and extremely expensive even in calm seas, and downright dangerous when winds and waves start kicking up. Many accidents have been reported, some fatal.
Those enormous blades also exact a toll on many species of marine birds, raptors and migrating land birds, and even bats that are attracted to the turbines as far as 14 km (9 miles) offshore. Of course, the dead and injured fliers simply fall into the sea, where they disappear. That means no one can calculate how many are killed, and the wind industry avoids both public relations problems and legal consequences for maiming and exterminating other protected wildlife.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society had estimated that a wind project off Cape Cod would kill about 6,000 marine birds each year, some of them on the endangered list. They finally gave their support to the plan after the promoter agreed to pay millions for monitoring the marine birds’ interactions with Cape Wind Project turbines. But is this sound science – or science and a stamp of approval associated with a mutually lucrative corporation-society arrangement?
People will certainly disagree on the answer. But while bird societies, consultants and government agencies are studying wind turbines and birds “to death,” protected wildlife species are dwindling wherever wind farms are installed, and for miles around them.
Security: Another Issue
A final aspect is security. Having forests of enormous turbines off our coasts will greatly increase the risk of collisions for surface vessels, especially in storms or dense fog, as well as for submarines. It will also impair radar and sonar detection of hostile ships and low-flying aircraft, and make coastal waters more dangerous for Coast Guard helicopters and other rescue operations.
The ultra-subsidized offshore wind industry makes no sense from an economic, environmental, defense or shipping perspective. To mandate these enormous installations is demented. To exempt them from endangered species and other laws that are applied with a heavy hand to all other industries – and even to the U.S. and Royal Navy – is irresponsible, even criminally so.
We would be far better off simply ending wayward, wasteful offshore wind energy programs. The free market can neuter wind short of the assessing the environmental damage.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death. Mark Duchamp is president of Save the Eagles International.