New Jersey's first offshore wind farm 'likely to adversely affect’ whales – NOAA report

New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm will "likely adversely affect” but not kill whales and other sea animals, according to a new report from a federal agency.

A whale breaching and feeding off the coast of New Jersey (pic credit: Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty Images)

Ørsted’s 1100MW Ocean Wind 1 project 24km off Long Beach, New Jersey is currently in the permitting process. 

Anti-wind campaigners are blaming wind farm development off New Jersey and neighbouring New York for killing 29 whales since December. 

But in a new report that looked at the life-cycle of the project – from surveying to decomissioning – the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that it had evaluated the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s analysis of Ocean Wind 1’s impact on endangered and threatened species, as well as the best scientific and commercial data available.

The project “is likely to adversely affect, but is not likely to jeopardise, the continued existence of any species of [Endangered Species Act or ESA]-listed whales, sea turtles, or Atlantic sturgeon or destroy or adversely modify any designated critical habitat,” NOAA concluded.

“No serious injury or mortality of any ESA-listed whale is anticipated as a result of the proposed project. We do not expect any [critically endangered] right whales to be exposed to increased sound levels that would result in injury; all effects to right whales will be limited to temporary behavioural disturbance. Additionally, no effects to the features of right whale critical habitat are anticipated,” NOAA stated in the report. 

Ørsted told Windpower Monthly the report confirms that the developer’s planned Ocean Wind 1 project will not "jeopardise any species listed under the Endangered Species Act or right whale critical habitat". It added that it is working to minimise the impact of its project on marine mammals, including by the use of dedicated observers, passive acoustic monitoring, vessel speed restrictions, a situational awareness network for marine mammal and sea turtle detections, and other measures.

Federal officials had previously said there was no evidence that the ongoing wind development has killed whales. The dead whales that have had necropsies were found to have been killed by collisions with boats or by being entangled in fishing gear. Container ports in the New Jersey-New York region are the busiest in the US.

Republican legislators Christopher Smith and Jeff Van Drew have launched legislation in Congress to halt wind development. The legislation could gain traction in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has vowed to challenge President Joe Biden’s energy policies. But it would be almost certain to be nixed in the Democratic-led Senate. 

The two legislators had previously held a public meeting on the whales issue. They contended that offshore wind surveying is disorienting the whales, which are then killed by collisions.