EOPA New Jersey says we should question the validity of intrusive oil company operations that add to the climate crisis - not offshore wind

February 23, 2023

More dead whales have washed ashore in New Jersey and New York this winter, which is not unusual and has been documented since 2016. But this time the beachings have brewed a tempest of false information. The ensuing over sensationalized social media storm and accompanying headlines irrationally, and without any evidence, blamed their deaths on the development of wind turbines off the coast — despite there being no evidence.

“The best way to help whales flourish is for humans to stop using fossil fuels that have been fueling global warming and thereby endangering the whale’s habitat and food source. Offshore wind powers clean renewable energy that will diminish our dependency on fossil fuels, and help stop ocean temperature rise,” said Dominic Frongillo, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Elected Officials to Protect America. “Over 115 New Jersey elected officials have signed our letter of support for offshore wind. We should be questioning the validity of intrusive oil company operations that add to the climate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, not demonize clean renewable offshore wind.”

The decline of right whales comes as the Gulf of Maine off New England— their primary feeding grounds — has been warming faster than nearly any other body of water on earth. Since 2010, the temperature in these waters has been above average 92 percent of the time, and at heatwave levels for 55 percent of the time. The rise in temperature has led to dramatic declines, up to 90 percent in some areas, in a small crustacean, calanus, the main source of food for whales. In search of nourishment, they have been migrating north into more fishing and shipping traffic. The shipping in the area is heavy with 40 percent of vessels caring petroleum products.

Scientists say the greatest danger to whales comes from millions of fishing lines, resulting in lethal entanglements. Since 2016, they have been tracking elevated numbers of whale deaths on the East Coast. Out of the 178 whale deaths 40 percent were because whales were struck by ships or got tangled in ropes or nets in the water.

“New Jersey businesses, community groups, labor unions, and environmental groups all want to see offshore wind developed equitably and responsibly. The falsehoods about the unfortunate beachings have been put to rest by NOAA and BOEM officials,”  said Kaleem Shabazz, Vice President, Atlantic City Council. “We’re at the vanguard of a new clean, renewable energy industry that will generate thousands of union jobs and training, create prosperity for our environmental injustice communities, improve our health, and help protect our coastlines— including our whales. It’s time to support offshore wind and the environmental justice communities that those jobs will support.”

There is no evidence that wind turbines or any activity involved in surveying and planning for ocean wind farms has harmed whales, according to Brian Hooker head of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Office of Renewable Energy Program. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has also ruled out any link.

At a press conference, Benjamin Laws, with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources said, “There are no known connections between any of these offshore wind activities and any whale strandings.”

Under federal regulations there are stringent requirements for vessels conducting offshore wind activities that are designed to look for and avoid marine mammals. An observer must be aboard during daylight hours and two at night using night-vision equipment. Additionally, the offshore wind surveying equipment is smaller, and quieter than the intrusive, noisy, environmental damaging equipment used by oil and gas exploitation. Yet the oil industry has drilled, polluted, and has been responsible for major spills endangering and killing mammals, including whales.

Oil and gas companies regularly use high-impact seismic surveys to map reserves deep beneath the ocean floor. Those blasts are so loud and disruptive to the sea bead the results have been similar to the explosions of munitions left over from the early 20th century, BOEM experts stated.

“in Atlantic City we see flooding all year from sea level rise. High tides are cruel. Our children are forced to stay home on flood days. Combating the climate crisis head on with our offshore wind development will give our children and their families hope, jobs and security,” said Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick. “We should be exposing the threats of fossil fuel exploration, increased shipping, and the clear and present danger that thousands of oil platforms present, not believing in rumors generated by fossil fuel interest. It’s not surprising that out-of-state fossil fuel interests are funding shadow organizations to delay New Jersey’s transition to clean renewable energy.

The connections between groups like Save Long Beach Island, the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, and the Caesar Rodney Institute are well documented.  

By the end of 2022, the federal government faced lawsuits from resident groups in every coastal state from North Carolina to Maine. Some of the groups received money from Caesar Rodney Institute’s legal fund. Protect Our Coast New Jersey has a donation button on their website that goes to a Caesar Rodney Paypal account. They are invested in protecting the profits of fossil fuel companies’ by delaying the inevitable clean energy transition.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an oil company-funded advocacy group, is providing the financial backing and legal expertise for litigation filed by New England fishing businesses to stop the Massachusetts Vineyard Wind project. According to the Washington Post, the foundation is taking up the cause of the whales in court.

These same oil companies have taken advantage of the war in Ukraine and inflation to reap exorbitant profits off the backs of consumers. Fourth-quarter reports for the top five oil giants, to be made public by February, will show a combined profit of $199 billion, reported Refinitiv, a financial markets data firm, according to Reuters.

Offshore wind is critically important for New Jersey to meet the state’s economic development, public health, and environmental justice goals. It has already set the state economy on a higher growth trajectory by driving workforce development, economic prosperity, and job creation.

New Jersey has a goal of 11-gigawatt fixed bottom offshore wind by 2040, which is leading the nation in fixed bottom offshore. 

America is finally investing in offshore wind, after it was put on hold because the previous administration sided with the oil industry. President Biden set a goal for 30 gigawatts from fixed bottom offshore wind by 2030, and 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power from floating turbines by 2035. As a result, there are 17 projects on the East Coast in active development.

Block Island Wind Farm off the Rhode Island coast was the first U.S. commercial offshore wind farm. The 30 MW project finished construction in 2016 and has not had any incidents with whale deaths. It has not disrupted fishing or migratory bird routes. In fact, it has spurred a new fishing industry. Around the turbine platforms reefs have formed, attracting new schools of fish that tourists catch when they hire charter boats.

Currently, there are only seven working offshore wind turbines in the U.S. Europe has more than 5,000 offshore wind turbines. China has thousands.

Elected Officials to Protect America is a network of current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting the planet and people. EOPA is committed to solving the climate crisis, ensuring environmental justice, and protecting our lands and waters. EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, training lawmakers, and connecting elected officials to inspire strong environmental leadership.

EOPA New Jersey is a statewide, non-partisan network of California elected officials committed to protecting our communities, public health, and climate for all we represent.