Ørsted: No sound surveys have been part of wind project work since the summer

OCEAN CITY — Close to the horizon, as seen from an almost deserted winter beach in the south end of Ocean City, the lift boat Northstar Voyager can be seen

Ørsted: No sound surveys have been part of wind project work since the summer

As the world warms and extreme weather events mount, governments and corporations have been called on to address climate change. The planet's temperature has already risen by about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) and the effects will only get worse with every additional tenth of a degree of warming, scientists warn. Scientists and officials agree that it's important to not make matters worse by burning even more fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — that emit heat-trapping gases into the air.

It's hoped that cleaner alternatives — such as solar and wind energy — will replace much of that demand. As costs of renewables plummet, more and more energy is being produced in sustainable ways, although the total amount of energy produced globally has also gone up. Newer technologies like green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy sources to make hydrogen to use for energy, and carbon capture, which sucks carbon dioxide out of the air, are being explored but still come with a heavy price tag and are untested on a large scale.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide but only lasts in the atmosphere for about a dozen years, will also have to be greatly reduced. Countries have vowed to plug methane leaks from oil wells and gas pipelines which would have immediate benefits for curbing warming, scientists say. Elizabeth Robinson, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment's director, pointed to stopping deforestation and tweaking diets as solutions.

Using land for agriculture, especially for livestock which also requires vast amounts of land for grazing, means forests need to be cleared and more greenhouse gases are emitted into the air. Robinson also pointed to use more what's termed 'active transport,' such as biking. "These are activities that can lead to reduce climate change and make us healthier at the same time," she said.

OCEAN CITY — Close to the horizon, as seen from an almost deserted winter beach in the south end of Ocean City, the lift boat Northstar Voyager can be seen silhouetted against the sunrise.With its three legs extended to the sandy sea floor, the 91-foot craft forms a stable platform in the open ocean.The vessel can be used in water depths of up to 100 feet, according to a spec sheet from the marine services company that operates it, but this close to the shore it is likely only in about 30 feet of water, depending on the tide.This month, the vessel has been exploring the ocean bottom, part of the preparation for bringing cables under the sea floor, and under Ocean City, to carry electricity generated by a planned offshore wind farm into the power grid at the former site of the B.L. England power plant in Upper Township. According to officials with Ørsted, the Danish energy company planning to build Ocean Wind 1, the state's first offshore wind turbine project, off the South Jersey coast, the work consists of drilling a short way into the bottom and gathering samples to help plan the cable route.On Thursday, company officials said they are not using sound to map the sea floor, and have not used sound in any project since last summer.

BRIGANTINE — City Council is calling for the suspension of offshore wind development after a… After a spate of deaths of humpback whales, which have washed up on New Jersey beaches, including in Strathmere, Atlantic City and Brigantine this winter, some have speculated that the sound from underwater mapping may have injured or distressed the whales.Several local officials have called for a moratorium on all offshore work related to the wind power projects.Ørsted officials did not have any comment on those proposals, saying Gov. Phil Murphy has already responded. But company representatives said there is no way the work underway this winter could have harmed the whales.Even when sound is used to map the ocean floor, the amount of sound is far quieter than what is used for ocean floor exploration for the oil and gas industry, where engineers seek to map potential deposits that are sometimes miles beneath the surface.For wind turbines, the designers of the support structures need data from the surface of the ocean floor, and a few feet deep.The quieter noise is much less likely to impact marine life, according to Ørsted staff.

The warming of the waters off the East Coast has brought the loss of microscopic organisms that make up the base of the ocean's food chain. Maine-based scientists who recently reported the results of a years-long, NASA-funded study about the subject say the increasing warmth and saltiness of the Gulf of Maine is causing a dramatic decrease in the production of phytoplankton. The tiny plant-like organisms are vital for ocean health.

Potential loss of phytoplankton has emerged as a concern in recent years in other parts of the world's oceans, such as waters off Alaska. That was also the conclusion of officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who spoke with reporters about the whale deaths Wednesday. Still, many in South Jersey remain unconvinced, with several readers expressing their skepticism about what the NOAA experts had to say.'Our current work off the coast of New Jersey consists of geotechnical investigations which do not involve sounds or actions that will harm whales or other marine mammals,' said Madeline Urbish, head of government affairs and market strategy in New Jersey for Ørsted, in a statement last week.

'It's important for all ocean users to continue working with state and federal officials to further advance science-based, smart policies that protect critical marine life while addressing climate change.'Company officials hope to have the needed state and federal approvals for the project by the end of this year, and begin construction either before the year is out or in early 2024.As proposed, the plan is to build close to 100 wind turbines within a federal permitting area, which starts about 15 miles off the coast of Cape May and Atlantic counties. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, committed to increasingly powering New Jersey with green energy, with Ocean Wind 1 set to be the first of several projects in operation to that end.The structures will each be more than 900 feet tall, as outlined in public documents, with a diameter of the rotating blades at 788 feet.Power could begin to be generated in 2024 under current plans.

So far at least, no whale deaths have been connected to work tied to offshore wind projects,… Before the Northstar Voyager arrived, another vessel, the Regulus, completed similar work, described as geotechnical site investigation.That work was part of the planning and engineering for the platforms that will hold the wind turbines, assuming the needed approvals come through.The Regulus began operations Jan. 4 and completed them Jan. 10.

The Voyager is expected to complete its project soon, and there is no immediate additional survey work planned.Ørsted officials said they try to limit the amount of time in the ocean in winter, when conditions can be difficult and serious storms are always a possibility.When sound surveys are used, the company is careful not to disturb marine mammals, with marine life experts on the vessels who have the authority to stop the work if a whale enters the area. Boats involved in the work have marine life spotters on board to avoid the potential of hitting a whale while underway.'Ørsted-contracted vessels have not experienced any marine mammal strikes during any offshore survey activity, and that's the case not only in New Jersey but across our entire offshore portfolio,' said Stephanie Francoeur, an Ørsted spokesperson. Federal environmental and energy officials say there is no evidence that work done by the offshore wind power industry is killing whales in the northeastern U.S.

On Wednesday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management addressed the controversy surrounding a spate of whale deaths on the East Coast that some groups suspect may have been caused by site preparation work for offshore wind farms. NOAA says there have been 14 whale strandings on the East Coast since Dec. 1, but adds there is no evidence offshore wind work had anything to do with them.

The Danish wind power company is not the only one with vessels in the water. The Atlantic Shores offshore wind project is the next up in the regulatory process, out of several offshore wind projects.A spokesperson for Atlantic Shores did not have details of the current work available by Friday afternoon.A notice to mariners on the Atlantic Shores website said six survey vessels and more than 85 people are involved in the geophysical and geotechnical campaign, including three vessels operated in New Jersey.Ørsted staff said Thursday a vessel is currently in operation in the Atlantic Shores project area, an 183,000-acre area north of the Ocean Wind 1 area.A map of the project area posted to the Atlantic Shores website showed the Browning involved in drilling operations within the project area, off Absecon Inlet.Despite NOAA's assertion that no evidence connects the offshore work on the wind power projects with the whale deaths this winter, some locals say that's exactly the point. Ørsted, the Danish company constructing offshore wind farms off New Jersey's shoreline, inte… 'We need more scientific, fact-based data before anything can be confidently determined about the cause of these whale deaths,' said Brigantine Mayor Vince Sera.

'And, until we have that data, isn't it worth pausing these ocean wind projects which could potentially have major long-term impacts on our marine mammal populations?'State Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, said the drilling will not directly affect marine life. But that does not mean it has had no effect.'The concern I have is that it creates sound and vibration in the environment which is unnatural for the whales and other marine life,' Polistina said.

'Nobody knows for sure, but it could cause bait fish or the whales to come closer to the shore in order to avoid that activity. If it is affecting the bait fish, the whales may be coming closer to shore in order to feed. That's why I think we should take some time to try to figure it out as best we can.'At the NOAA briefing Wednesday, federal officials said the system has been used around the world, with no indication of harm to marine mammals.

But Polistina said the event seemed hastily arranged to try to deflect the issues.Officials with Ørsted say they do not want to see any animals come to harm, and added their work is closely regulated at every step.'Ørsted prioritizes coexistence with our communities and marine wildlife,' said Urbish in an email Thursday. 'The offshore wind industry is subject to the most stringent level of protections for marine mammals and protected species. Every aspect of our surveys, construction, and operations are reviewed by multiple agencies and subject to protective conditions, including vessel speeds, time of year restrictions for construction activities, and mandatory protected species observers.' Contact Bill Barlow:__EMAIL__witter URL Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.