Those poor birdies...

I seem to fit in the half-hippy half-skeptical-about-climate-change camp. I think that there are some legitimate environmental concerns, and also a lot of hype. Consider the issue of bird deaths caused by energy-related activities.

(Cartoon from MacKay Editorial Cartoons, reposted as per their usage policy)

The deaths of birds due to wastewater (AKA tailings) ponds in the Alberta oilsands has attracted quite a bit of criticism, and lead to some fairly hefty fines. Some examples:

  • Exxon Mobil fined $600,000 for 85 bird deaths at various facilities across 5 US states (Source: CNN). That's $7059/bird.
  • Syncrude was fined $3,000,000 for 1600 bird deaths in 2008, and are likely to be fined again due to an incident last month involving a couple of hundred additional bird deaths (Source: CTV). That's $1875/bird.
  • EnCana Oil & Gas was fined $200,000 for the deaths of 55 birds. (Source: The Denver Post). That's $3636/bird.

Now compare to wind generation. For example, this is what was found at just one wind farm:

A study last year by the California Energy Commission estimated that up to 4,720 birds from 40 different species are killed each year at the wind farm, including as many as 1,300 protected raptors. (Source: Planet Ark)

Where they to be fined the same amount on a per-bird basis for birth deaths, this wind farm alone would be looking at an annual fine somewhere between $2,625,000 and $33,318,480. In other words a whole lot of money.

And it's not just birds that you need to worry about, wind farms may be more hazardous to bats due to the changes in pressure caused by the movement of turbines. To quote a New Scientist article:

In May 2007, the US National Research Council published the results of a survey of US wind farms showing that two bat species accounted for 60% of winged animals killed. ... a new study shows that the moving blades cause a drop in pressure that makes the delicate lungs of bats suddenly expand, bursting the tissue's blood vessels.

With bats no direct contact with the blades is actually required to result in their deaths.

I'm still a fan of wind power as a viable energy source, but think that it's essential to remain aware of the drawbacks of such sources as well. In addition to bird deaths, these include effects such impacts on electrical pricing, sometimes leading to negative power prices and an increased possibility of brownouts given sudden changes in windspeed.


The poor birds! I'm kind of leaning in the same direction as you. Part hippy (yes I have a cloth shopping bag and hate the idea of cutting down trees), I also think some of it is overblown. But just because some might be, does NOT mean we can dismiss it out of turn. People seem to think that because one claim might not be true that we don't need to pay attention to anything environmental. One of our mandates on this earth is to take care of it. Not just use it.