Wind Coalition Responds to OIPA Nonsense on Eagle Rule

Perhaps someday OIPA will get back to being an advocate for oil and gas, but – for now – they want to focus on wind energy. That’s a shame when wind and natural gas are “highly complementary” and are growing together – increasing markets for both (see EIA data). It’s a shame when they miss the fact that some of Oklahoma’s largest wind developers are also some of the state’s largest natural gas purchasers. For now, if they want to continue serving as the state’s anti-wind voice, they need to get their facts straight.

Some clarifications are in order on the eagle rule.

To start with, this rule in not specific to the wind power. It applies to any person or entity that might unintentionally harm an eagle through an otherwise lawful activity, after first taking every step possible to avoid and minimize the threat. Over 400 permits have been issued under this program since 2009, only three for wind companies. Other activities and industries that could potentially impact eagles that are eligible for permits are oil and gas development operations, farming and ranching operations, mining companies, utilities, and the transportation sector, among others.

Contrary to some reporting, impacts on bald eagles by wind turbines are vanishingly rare, with only a handful of recorded impacts in the four-decade history of American wind power.

Moreover, any entities that impact eagles without a permit could face a severe penalty. It is a gross mischaracterization of the rule to suggest that it gives entities a “free pass” to kill eagles without consequences. Only in return for working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to offset any potential harm to eagles and provide conservation benefits to the species is a permit issued.

Dan Ashe, the head of the USFWS issued some clarifying remarks:

On how the program conserves eagle populations, USFWS said, “Let me be clear: incidental loss of eagles is not new, and whether or not we issue permits, it will continue to occur. But our permit system enables us to reduce those losses and to secure action that compensates for unavoidable losses when needed. We can’t eliminate human-caused eagle loss any more than we can eliminate risk from any other facet of modern life. But these changes will enable us to effectively manage risks to bald and golden eagles and ensure the symbol of America maintains healthy populations for generations to come.”

The number of eagle deaths the Service expects to authorize annually from all new sources will never come close to reaching thousands. USFWS has stated that this figure is in no way representative of the losses it expects, or would ever allow, under the eagle conservation program.

USFWS said, “Some have mischaracterized the ceiling of about 4,000 bald eagles cited in our documents as the actual number of bald eagle deaths we intend to permit. In truth, this number represents the maximum number of bald eagles in the lower 48 states (with an equivalent number in Alaska) that our best scientific estimates indicate could be lost annually over and above current mortality rates by any means – both natural and human-caused – without resulting in population declines. The reality is we expect to issue just a few dozen permits annually, most for nest disturbance, some for loss from wind power projects and other sources, such as power lines… The total number of eagle losses we will authorize annually from new sources will be in the hundreds, not thousands, and we believe actual eagle loss will be significantly lower.”

On wind energy’s impacts on eagles, USFWS said, “Public attention on eagle loss in recent years has focused almost exclusively on wind energy. In truth, wind turbine collisions comprise a fraction of human-caused eagle losses. Most result from intentional and accidental poisoning and purposeful shooting. The majority of non-intentional loss occurs when eagles collide with cars or ingest lead shot or bullet fragments in remains and gut piles left by hunters. Others collide with or are electrocuted on power lines.”

Want to read the law or get some facts? The USFWS explains this in the final eagle rule here ( react-text: 409…/2016-29908.pdf /react-text ) (page 143).

As I’ve always advocated, the region’s energy industries would be better served by working together. Why keep importing energy (like Wyoming coal) from out of state? Oklahoma has the energy to power Oklahoma – vast supplies of natural gas and wind energy – that work incredibly well together. There was a time when oil and gas leaders in Oklahoma saw the potential for collaboration and the opportunity to grow market share for natural gas nationwide, giving utilities comfort in the flexibility of natural gas and the price hedge offered by a share of wind energy. My hope is that OIPA someday returns to collaborating to grow markets for its members, instead of solely serving as an anti-wind mouthpiece for the misinformed.”