US offshore wind farm developers Deepwater Wind, NRG Bluewater and Energy Management, Inc. have formed an agreement with the National Resources Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale during site characterisation and assessment.
The agreement is designed to reduce or avoid sound impacts from developers’ exploratory activities such as geological surveys and meteorological tower installation. The developers have pledged to implement the measures over the next four years in four wind energy areas (WEAs) established by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), in federal waters off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Most of the companies can’t yet stake claims to those areas, although NRG Bluewater secured a lease in October giving it exclusive rights to submit development plans for the Delaware WEA. The company has also notified BOEM of its interest in the New Jersey WEA.
Energy Management has expressed interest in the Maryland area, but none of the developers is on the public record as expressing an interest in the Virginia WEA, for which BOEM plans to hold an auction next year.
The agreement prohibits pile driving and sub-bottom profiling during the peak migration season, November 23 to March 21, and places a 10-knot speed limit on vessels from November 1 to April 30. In addition, during two shoulder periods - March 22 to April 30, and November 1 to 22 – companies can only carry out pile driving and sub-bottom profiling if they complete site-specific risk assessments and use the best commercially available noise-reduction technology.
Outside the peak migration season, the developers have agreed to human monitoring of whale activity in real time and restriction of activities to daylight hours, so that whales can be spotted.
According to the environmental groups, the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, with only 350 to 400 individuals left in the wild. Many of the US east coast’s promising areas for wind development are located in the species’ migratory corridor.
The agreement also has the support of the Sierra Club, Oceana, Environment America, the New England Aquarium, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Southern Environmental Law Center. The partners sent their agreement to BOEM on Wednesday.
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