It appears that the energy industry is making a ruckus in the wild kingdom. And it’s not just operations in the conventional energy sector causing concern. This time, the renewable energy sector is making headlines, too. Some members of congress and conservationists are pushing to prohibit the use of air guns off the East Coast. They believe, according to the Washington Post, that the use of the air guns – which emit blasts of compressed air in an effort to map what lies below the ocean floor as part of oil and gas seismic operations – is harmful to ocean mammals. “I think it’s fair to say that to a marine mammal, it must be like being in a war zone,” Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s marine mammal project, told the Washington Post. The council was reportedly part of a recently settled lawsuit concerning air gun usage in the Gulf of Mexico. “Every 10 to 12 seconds, boom! … And then you combine that with (noise from shipping and other activity) — it’s just unimaginable.” This, as expected, was disputed by International Association of Geophysical Contractors, whose president Chip Grill said there was no evidence of air guns harming marine mammals. Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, warned during the 2013 Offshore Technology Conference in May that this would come the industry’s way. He called litigation involving seismic activities the biggest threat to shutting down offshore development. But everyone will have to wait a bit longer to find out how the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will rule on the issue, as the Washington Post reported the ruling was pushed from last fall to March 2014. Too bad these mammals can’t say how they feel. Meanwhile, across the pond, wind farms are threatening to send porpoises looking for other love nests. Wales Online reported that the European Commission is taking action against the UK authorities for not adequately protecting native harbor porpoises. Plans for what could become one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms between Wales and Devon would include about 250 turbines. However, the development includes the Outer Bristol Channel, which the Porthcawl Environment Trust said in the article is a breeding site for marine life. The group believes the porpoises and their habitat are protected by the European Habitat Directives, the news agency reported. “[The commission] concluded that the government had failed to ensure compliance with its obligations under the Habitats Directive and in turn failed to make any substantial contribution toward the establishment of a coherent network of sites for the species in breach of its obligations under that directive,” the article said. The commission added, “Damaging activities such as fishing and projects with the potential to cause acoustic disturbance have not been adequately considered. These include, for example, offshore wind farm developments such as those being considered in the Outer Bristol Channel, which are being allowed to progress potentially without sufficient regard to the needs of the protection of the species.” Marine inhabitants aren’t alone in the spotlight as their human allies work to protect their habitats. Onshore, the dunes sagebrush lizard is at the center of a dispute in Texas. A conservation plan paved the way a few years ago for the state to preserve the lizards’ home in the West Texas oil patch. The issue was addressed in a recent article published in the Houston Chronicle’s Fuel Fix, which pointed out the plan’s flaws. These included potential conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency. “So far, the state's monthly reports to the US Fish and Wildlife Service show that energy companies and other landowners have harmed only 1½ acres of the lizard's habitat, which stretches across the vast Permian basin, one the nation's most prolific oil and gas fields,” the article said. “The number suggests that people are avoiding areas where the lizards live, but federal regulators do not know for certain.” And that’s part of the problem. The article said an advocacy group says there is evidence of oil and gas activity in the lizard’s habitat, and that activity hasn’t been reported to state and federal officials. Subsequently, a lawsuit has been filed against the federal government by the Defenders of Wildlife. As the world’s energy needs grows, companies step up the search for hydrocarbons, and others push renewable energy plans, these types of issues could start to grow in frequency as development springs up in new areas – both onshore and offshore. It should, however, be noted that efforts are being taken to protect wildlife. Apache Corp., for example, gave a donation to grow pine trees in Central Texas, a gesture that could help restore the endangered Houston toad’s habitat, according to an article on the company’s website. The area, located in Bastrop County, was devastated by wildfires in 2011. “The donation means the area did not miss a planting season, which may bode well for the Houston toad,” Apache said in the article. “The accelerated recovery of native vegetation will more rapidly restore the destroyed habitat of the endangered amphibian as well as reduce soil erosion and help restore the natural beauty of the area.” Now, that’s some good news. Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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