In the final days of the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service completed preliminary planning for offshore oil development on the Outer Continental Shelf along the entire eastern seaboard and the California coast. For the past couple of years, MMS has been laying the groundwork for new drilling, as it became clear that Presidential and Congressional bans on offshore development first implemented in the early 1980’s and renewed ever since, would expire. The recent documents outline 21 proposed lease areas, and announce plans to conduct a “programmatic” EIS to analyze environmental impacts of multiple seismic surveys off the coasts, as the areas are inventoried using modern surveying equipment (which makes lots of very widespread noise). The strangest element in the “notice of intent” to conduct the EIS, which would be required before any exploration could take place, is that MMS notes that it has no money to conduct the study, and it actually solicits financial support from the oil and gas industry to keep the EIS moving, stating that it “welcomes participation from outside sources,” and that without funding, the EIS would likely not be completed in time for the 2010-2015 leasing period. Below the fold, see the AEI News Digest coverage of this issue, including comments from MMS and incoming Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and links to the Notice of Intent and Congressional committee set to oversee OCS development.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has formally given the Navy its seal of approval for the third of the Navy’s “Big 3” sonar training EISs, just in the nick of time as the Navy’s 2-year national security exemption expires. The Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST) EIS, along with the recently approved EISs covering Hawaii and Southern California (SOCAL) training ranges, all contain virtually identical analyses of impacts and proposed safety measures, which mirror the “29 Safety Measures” the Navy formally adopted in January 2007 when it received an exemption to the MMPA in order to complete the then-newly-initiated EISs with fewer legal impediments. The Navy’s sonar nemesis, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) immediately issued a press release that stressed the millions of marine mammals that the EISs predict will hear sonar signals and respond by some behavioral changes (2 million per year, for five years). Read the rest of this entry »
In one of the first tests of wind advocates’ repeated claims that wind farms do not lower property values, a couple on Prince Edward Island asked for a reassessment, and found that their property had lost 10% of its value, solely due to the presence of wind turbines nearby. A spokesperson with the tax department said a handful of other residents living next to wind farms in West Prince also received lower assessments. Although the criteria for assessing property values doesn’t specify turbines, the department felt the properties near windmills should be treated the same as properties near industrial areas. Beverly Howard says there are now five new turbines within sight of their home, the closest about 500 metres away. “If you’re sitting out on your deck, they’re noisy, if you’re out gardening they’re noisy,” she said. “We can’t hear the surf anymore in the summertime; all we hear is windmills.” Source: CBC Canada, 12/23/08 [READ ARTICLE]
[See AEI Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise]
The Navy took another step on its reformed NEPA compliance path this week, as it received a formal Letter of Authorization to proceed with sonar training missions in waters around Hawaii. The Hawaii training range was the first of 11 Navy ranges to complete its Environmental Impact Statement; the Navy began planning this step of NEPA compliance in 2006 (belatedly, and spurred on by legal challenges), and received a national security exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in early 2007 to protect the training from legal challenges until the EISs could be completed. Two other ranges have released final EISs (Atlantic coast and Southern California), with five Draft EISs recently released (including the Pacific Northwest and an Undersea Warfare Training Range off the southeast Atlantic coast). It is unclear how sonar training will proceed in these other ranges once the exemption expires in late January; perhaps a shorter exemption will be issued to allow the EISs to be completed, or an agreement will be reached to eschew legal challenges in the interim.
The NOAA authorizations largely affirm the Navy’s current mitigation measures, including safety zones that have been challenged in the past as too small, and refusing (in the name of operational flexibility) to set any areas off-limits to sonar. While NOAA expects that the Navy’s safety measures should prevent injury, they acknowledge that in some situations strandings have occurred, and the authorizations allow for up to ten deaths of each of eleven species. (In Hawaii, sonar training has taken place for decades, and none of the clearly sonar-related stranding events have taken place there.) See below the fold for the AEI News Digest item on this story, with quotes from NRDC and links to the Letter of Authorization.
Here at AEI, one of the fun tasks on my plate is writing lay summaries of new scientific research. Usually. Early in 2008, a dense volume of the journal Aquatic Mammals was published, which featured the results of a multi-year effort by an all-star team of American ocean noise researchers, who were attempting to distill all the current research on ocean noise, and to recommend Exposure Criteria for marine mammals. Suffice to say, I read it several times, highlighting madly, but kept putting it aside, reticent to attempt a coherent narrative summary.
Well, I finally followed through, and what follows (below the fold) is a pretty decent summation of what they came up with. The headline news is twofold: in addressing noise that may cause physical injury (defined as permanent hearing loss), the authors present a dizzying array of extrapolations and assumptions (largely precautionary but sometimes pure leaps of faith) in order to try to assess the impact of extremely loud sound on marine mammals, given that there is very very little direct data to work with. They conclude that safety limits could be modestly increased without deafening more whales. On the behavioral side of the ledger, things are not that much clearer, but much more fascinating. A series of charts that compile results from all known behavioral response observations highlight the wide range of responses that a given level of sound may cause, but also provide some solid evidence that many marine mammals show fairly dramatic behavioral change when encountering fairly modest sound levels, far below those that current regulations consider necessary to monitor. With that, if you want to know more, I invite you to click on through….
The Klondike Wind Rush is underway, and while wind energy is a crucial wedge in the emerging renewable energy mix, some nearby neighbors of wind farms are reporting noise levels that are higher and more disruptive than they’d been led to expect. Simple noise models suggest noise should be inaudible beyond a quarter mile or so, but residents between a half mile and mile are quite often finding the noise intolerable. What is going on? This question is just the sort of thing we love here at AEI: a chance to dig in and get a big-picture view that moves beyond the strident and self-assured voices of advocacy groups on both sides of an issue. The result, published online in March 2008, was the AEI Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise Impacts.
This report is now available as a downloadable, printable document. Running to 30 pages in the pdf format, the report provides a comprehensive overview of issues being addressed by local planning commissions as wind energy companies seek new sites for this piece of our energy future. We’ve also put together an 8-page pdf version that is useful as a quick overview for the public and local officials.
See http://www.AcousticEcology.org/srwind.html for the full online report (continually updated), along with links to download the 30-page and 8-page pdfs.
The US Navy and the NRDC and its co-plaintiffs have settled a long-running lawsuit that challenged the Navy’s overall management of its mid-frequency active sonar program (this suit was separate from more high-profile challenges to specific training missions, one of which recently ended up in the Supreme Court). The resulting agreement formalizes the Navy’s recent commitment to NEPA compliance, which is by all accounts much improved since the suit was filed in 2005, and provides for increased transparency by the Navy about its sonar operations. Both parties trumpeted their glad tidings of prevailing over the stubborn demands of the other (see below), though it is far from clear how the parties will resolve continuing underlying disagreements over what degree of safety measures are necessary. The most significant new piece of the settlement is a commitment to pursuing three lines of research of interest to both parties, most strikingly studies of stress in marine mammals.
(Details of the settlement, with analysis of the potential benefits, are below the fold)