Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Are green energy sources like solar power and wind power good for the environment?

Green energy harms wildlife, especially birds

Green energy harms wildlife, especially birds

Investors Business Daily explains how green energy hurts birds, even rare, endangered species of birds.

Excerpt:

What do you call an energy source that consumes vast tracks of open land and fries birds that cross its path? If you’re the president, you call it “safe,” “reliable,” “green” and worthy of massive taxpayer subsidies.

That, at least, is the case with the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station that covers a vast area of desert outside Las Vegas and, thanks to the generous support of the Obama administration, has officially opened.

The plant points hundreds of thousands of mirrors at three towers to boil turbine-spinning water. But the heat rays aren’t very friendly to the area’s birds, including falcons, hawks, warblers and sparrows that have shown up dead near the towers.

One of the inconvenient truths that global warming fanatics and renewable energy purists try to ignore is that wind and solar energy are not so environmentally friendly. At least, not if you care about wildlife and land preservation.

First, these energy sources are massive land hogs. Ivanpah requires more than 5 square miles of mirrors to produce enough electricity to light 140,000 homes. It would take roughly 3,600 Ivanpahs to supply all the country’s electricity needs, with mirrors covering New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and a chunk of Massachusetts combined.

Wind power is hardly much better. According to the Nature Conservancy, it takes 30 times the land for windmills to produce as much electricity as a nuclear power plant.

And their turbines amount to bird Cuisinarts. To keep wind farms spinning, the Obama administration recently issued permits letting them kill protected bald and golden eagles for 30 years, provided they take some steps to mitigate the slaughter.

People who friend me on Facebook know that I love birds very much and I keep them as pets – they are my favorite animal. So this just gives me another reason to be disgusted with the policies of the secular left. When you add this wholesale slaughter of birds to the fact that we could be creating many more new jobs by investing in traditional sources of energy at home, it makes me even more angry.

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Obama administration issues permits to wind energy companies to kill rare birds

From National Review.

Excerpt:

We have to kill eagles in order to save them.

That’s now the official policy of the U.S. Interior Department. On Friday, the agency announced that it would grant some wind-energy companies permits that will allow them to kill or injure bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty.

The move is an unprecedented gift to the wind-energy industry, which has been lobbying for the 30-year permit for several years. Shortly after the deal was announced, the wind-energy lobby issued a statement that would make George Orwell proud. An official with the American Wind Energy Association declared that this “is not a program to kill eagles.” It is, he claimed, “about conservation.”

Well then. We can now rest easy. Big Wind is saving eagles by getting permits to kill them.

Dozens of environmental groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, the Conservation Law Center, and the National Audubon Society, opposed the deal. Under the headline “Interior Dept. Rule Greenlights Eagle Slaughter at Wind Farms,” Audubon issued a statement calling it “a stunningly bad move” and quoting the group’s president and CEO, David Yarnold: “Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check.” He called it “outrageous” that “the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle.”

[...]On September 11, some of the top raptor biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report that found that the number of documented eagle kills by wind turbines has increased dramatically over the past few years, rising from two in 2007 to 24 in 2011. In all, some 85 eagles have been killed by wind turbines since 1997. And that figure is “an absolute minimum,” Joel Pagel, the lead author of the report, recently told me. Among the carcasses: six bald eagles.

In an interview shortly after the publication of his findings in the Journal of Raptor Research, Pagel told me that he and his colleagues have since documented additional eagle kills by wind turbines in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota. He refused to give a number but said “it’s quite a few.” There are now 14 states where the problem has been identified, he said, adding that more than half of the eagle carcasses have been found “incidentally” — that is, by people not out looking for them. And so the total of dead eagles is likely far higher than what Pagel and his colleagues are reporting.

As someone who loves birds of all kinds and who has owned different species of parrots for the last 25 years, I am outraged by the Obama administration’s war on birds. Birds are among the most intelligent animals, and many species are capable of forming bonds with humans in ways that most other animals cannot. We should not be subsidizing “green” energy projects that result in the killing of rare birds. Although global warming theory is now widely recognized as being contrary to observations, the need to protect endangered species is real.

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New PNAS study finds fracking emissions far lower than EPA estimates

From Investors Business Daily. Before you read the article, you should know that “fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. This is a technique for extracting shale oil by creating fractures in rocks.

Excerpt:

Whether naturally occurring or not, environmentalists claim that fracking would release huge amounts of what they consider the most potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas, far outweighing the value of producing huge quantities of clean-burning natural gas.

Now comes a study, conducted by scientists at the University of Texas and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — and co-financed by one of the highest-profile environmentalists in the country — that shows much smaller amounts of methane emissions associated with fracking, far less than environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency have contended.

[...]The study, billed as the first to measure the actual emissions of methane from natural gas wells, finds these emissions were, in some cases, only about 2% of the most recent national estimate by the EPA in 2011. An upcoming EPA rule, effective January 2015, requires all methane to be captured when liquids are removed after drilling.

Seen by many as an attempt to stop fracking, which has boosted the economy through its ability to tap previously inaccessible oil and gas riches, the rule might be redundant. Two-thirds of the wells studied already were capturing or controlling the methane to reduce emissions.

“For those wells with methane capture or control, 99% of the potential emissions were captured or controlled,” the study notes.

This proves once again there is no problem technology can’t solve and that when decisions are made based on technology, rather than ideology, good things happen.

An interesting aspect of the study is that it was funded in part by Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist who has become highly active in national politics in the past year, backing environmentalist Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Steyer’s support for the University of Texas came by way of the Environmental Defense Fund, which helped finance the study. He and his wife Kat Taylor are listed among individuals who provided “major funding for the EDF’s 30-month methane research series, including their portion of the University of Texas study.”

[...]Thanks in large part to fracking, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 were the lowest in the U.S. since 1994, at 5.3 billion metric tons. With the exception of 2010, emissions have declined every year since 2007.

Back in May 2013, Associated Press reported that the EPA had already lowered their estimates before this study completed.

Excerpt:

The new EPA data is “kind of an earthquake” in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. “This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”

The scope of the EPA’s revision was vast. In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. The agency converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice.

So there’s no harm to the environment, but about the economics benefits of fracking? Well, when states have embraced fracking, their economies have greatly benefited.

Here’s what happened when North Dakota lowered its regulatory barriers to energy development.

This:

North Dakota had the highest payroll-to-population rate (P2P) and the lowest underemployment rate in 2012, thanks mostly to the state’s booming oil & gas industry.

According to Gallup’s “State of the States” analysis released today, North Dakota ranked number one among the lower 48 states, with a payroll to population rate of 53.6 percent.

Gallup said it measured each state’s P2P rate by the percentage of the adult population aged 18 and older employed full-time by an employer for at least 30 hours per week.

The analysis noted that the numbers are not seasonably adjusted and variations across states reflect a number of factors, including the overall employment situation for each state as well as the demographic composition of that state’s population. P2P rates in Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia were not considered in the analysis.

Factoring in the most recent unemployment data is key to the Gallup analysis. North Dakota reported just a 3.2 percent unemployment rate, well below the national average unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number one ranking should not come as much of a surprise given the Peace Garden state’s rise in oil and gas production and the subsequent rise in jobs over the past few years.

According to North Dakota Jobs Service data from 2011, the most recent available, the number of oil and gas jobs in North Dakota has risen 57.5 percent since 2010 – going from 10,660 jobs in 2010 to 16,786 jobs in 2011, with the oil and gas payroll nearly doubling — going from $852 million in 2010 up to $1.5 billion in 2011.

North Dakota now produces more oil than any other state, including Alaska, which ranked number one in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In New York, Chesapeake Energy just decided to pull up stakes and leave the state.

Excerpt:

After more than five years of a fracking moratorium, a leading energy company walks away from its leases, leaving New York, its natural gas riches — and the jobs and wealth they could generate — unrealized.

In 2000, people from Chesapeake Energy began arriving in Broome County, New York, a few miles north of the Pennsylvania border. Broome had seen better economic days but was lucky to be sitting right atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches through much of the Northeast.

[...]Interestingly, New York’s very own Department of Environmental Conservation website on Marcellus drilling says, “No known instances of groundwater contamination have occurred from previous horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing projects in New York.”

A recent Department of Energy study has concluded that fracking chemicals do not taint drinking water.

After a year of monitoring wells in western Pennsylvania, researchers found these fluids stayed thousands of feet below the areas that supply drinking water.

A 2010 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection report concluded that “no groundwater pollution or disruption of underground sources of drinking water have been attributed to hydraulic fracturing of deep gas formations.”

But Pennsylvania allows fracking, and they are seeing the same economic boom as North Dakota:

A recent study by the Manhattan Institute highlighted the economic impact of fracking in New York’s neighbor to the south, Pennsylvania, which has had 5,000 wells fracked since 2002.

The data are compelling, as counties with more than 200 wells, drilled between 2007 and 2011, saw a 19% increase in per-capita incomes, versus just 8% income growth for those with no wells fracked.

Further, the number of county jobs grew by 7% in those with more than 200 wells fracked, against a 3% contraction in counties with no wells drilled.

According to the Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth, “Income of residents in the 28 New York counties above the Marcellus Shale has the potential to expand by 15% or more over the next four years if the state’s moratorium is lifted.”

In Pennsylvania, according to the report, each well in the Marcellus Shale formation creates $5.5 million in direct economic benefits and 62 jobs, and the wells endanger no one. Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry estimates that fracking in its part of the Marcellus created 72,000 jobs from the fourth quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2011, as New York’s job- and growth-killing moratorium got underway.

Now tell me again why progressives are supposedly smarter than conservatives.

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Is environmentalism good for the environment?

Although I am not a global warming alarmist, I am concerned with conservation. So, all things being equal, I think it’s a good idea not to pollute the environment unnecessarily. Now, you might think that environmentalists agree with me on that.

Let’s take a look at this article by Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal where he writes about how a train that was transporting shale oil was derailed and then exploded. (H/T Dennis Prager)

Excerpt:

The derailed 72-car train belonged to a subsidiary of Illinois-based multinational Rail World, whose self-declared aim is to “promote rail industry privatization.” The train was carrying North Dakota shale oil (likely extracted by fracking) to the massive Irving Oil refinery in the port city of Saint John, to be shipped to the global market. At least five people were killed in the blast (a number that’s likely to rise) and 1,000 people were forced to evacuate. Quebec’s environment minister reports that some 100,000 liters (26,000 gallons) of crude have spilled into the Chaudière River, meaning it could reach Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River before too long.

Now the question is, why is it that trains are used instead of pipelines, when pipelines are safer than trains?

Let’s see why:

The reason oil is moved on trains from places like North Dakota and Alberta is because there aren’t enough pipelines to carry it. The provincial governments of Alberta and New Brunswick are talking about building a pipeline to cover the 3,000-odd mile distance. But last month President Obama put the future of the Keystone XL pipeline again in doubt, telling a Georgetown University audience “our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

[...]Like water, business has a way of tracing a course of least resistance. Pipelines are a hyper-regulated industry but rail transport isn’t, so that’s how we now move oil. As the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Fowler reported in March, in 2008 the U.S. rail system moved 9,500 carloads of oil. In 2012, the figure surged to 233,811. During the same period, the total number of spills went from eight to 69. In March, a derailed train spilled 714 barrels of oil in western Minnesota.

Predictable, you would think. And ameliorable: Pipelines account for about half as much spillage as railways on a gallon-per-mile basis. Pipelines also tend not to go straight through exposed population centers like Lac-Mégantic. Nobody suggests that pipelines are perfectly reliable or safe, but what is? To think is to weigh alternatives. The habit of too many environmentalists is to evade them.

Investors Business Daily has more on the benefits of pipelines:

Railways suffer spills 2.7 times more often than pipelines, according to the Washington-based Association of American Railroads. If that seems self-serving, the State Department, citing a 2012 study from the free-market Manhattan Institute, said trains spill 33 times more oil than pipelines.

[...]“The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines,” says Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s energy security initiative.

Brookings is a left-leaning think tank, and they agree: pipelines are safer than trains.

It does make sense, I think, for Christians and conservatives to ask ourselves sensible questions about the environment. How do we make air clean enough? How do we make water clean enough? How do we avoid impacting nature unnecessarily? But I think this story about the train should help us realize that fundamentalist environmentalists are not the best people to be making these sorts of policy decisions. These decisions should be made by rational thinkers, who can consider all sides of an issue and think critically about the needs of everyone concerned. This is not a problem for secular leftist idealists who are more motivated by blind faith than by facts.

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Wind power turbine kills white-throated needletail

White-throated Needletail

White-throated Needletail

My friend Barbara G. sent me this UK Telegraph story about rare birds, because she knows that I love birds.

Excerpt:

Around 40 people were watching the White-throated Needletail, the world’s fastest flying bird, on the Isles of Harris when the tragedy happened.

Sightings of the bird have only been recorded eight times in the UK in nearly 170 years, most recently in 1991, prompting around 80 ornithologists to visit the island in the hope of catching a glimpse.

John Marchant, a project coordinator for the British Trust for Ornithology, visited the island on a specially-arranged trip with a group of other birdwatchers and witnessed the death.

The 62-year-old bird enthusiast said he travelled from Norfolk when he heard about the arrival of the bird, which had brown, blue and black bird plumage.

“We were absolutely over the moon and thrilled to see the bird. We watched it for nearly two hours. While we were watching it suddenly it was a bit close to the turbine and then the blades hit it,” he said.

[...]During the 1991 sighting, a single bird was spotted four times in Kent, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and finally Shetland.

The White-throated Needletail, also known as the Needle-tailed Swift or Spine-tailed Swift, is known to fly up at speeds of up to 69mph, although there are unconfirmed reports of them reaching 105mph.

The birds have very short legs, which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces, and they build their nests in rock crevices in cliffs or hollow trees. They spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks.

They breed in rocky hills in central Asia and southern Siberia but migrate south to the Indian Subcontinent, southeast Asia and Australia.

The SNP administration at Holyrood is pressing ahead with a rapid expansion in the number of wind farms after setting a target to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The SNP is the socialist Scottish National Party. They are basically secular communists, so they love subsidizing green energy – and killing rare birds.

Here’s a related story closer to home, from Fox News. (H/T Melissa)

Excerpt:

The Obama administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing eagles and other protected bird species, shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret, an Associated Press investigation has found.

More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country’s wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Each death is federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines. No wind energy company has been prosecuted, even those that repeatedly flout the law.

[...]Documents and emails obtained by The Associated Press offer glimpses of the problem: 14 deaths at seven facilities in California, five each in New Mexico and Oregon, one in Washington state and another in Nevada, where an eagle was found with a hole in its neck, exposing the bone.

One of the deadliest places in the country for golden eagles is Wyoming, where federal officials said wind farms had killed more than four dozen golden eagles since 2009, predominantly in the southeastern part of the state. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the figures. Getting precise figures is impossible because many companies aren’t required to disclose how many birds they kill. And when they do, experts say, the data can be unreliable.

When companies voluntarily report deaths, the Obama administration in many cases refuses to make the information public, saying it belongs to the energy companies or that revealing it would expose trade secrets or implicate ongoing enforcement investigations.

Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years.

“What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK,” said Tim Eicher, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent based in Cody, Wyo.

Most other people like dogs and cats, but I like birds. I am concerned about birds of prey who are endangered species. I believe in conservation. To me, what this story says is that Obama doesn’t really care about the environment. The federal government does have some legitimate functions, like protecting us from threats, maintaining roads and protecting endangered species. But they don’t have to be subsidizing wind power, especially when it causes pain and suffering to innocent birds.

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