Survey Work Begins for Offshore Wind Farms in NY Bight

surveys for NY offshore wind farms
Geophysical surveys are starting on the lease areas in the New York Bight (Furgo file photo)

Published Jan 12, 2023 5:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

Less than a year after the record-setting auctions for leases in the New York Bight, initial survey work is beginning for the U.S.’s next large offshore wind farms. Coinciding with the start of the offshore survey work, however, a group of environmentalists is calling for a suspension of the efforts after whales recently beached on the New Jersey shoreline.

Community Offshore Wind, a joint venture between RWE Renewables and National Grid, which won one of the leases in the middle of the area off the New Jersey shore reported that it would be kicking off its survey work. The company highlighted the depth of its efforts to coordinate with the local fishing community to limit disruptions with the survey which will be continuing through summer 2023 with two vessels from Furgo. Community Offshore Wind said it has collaborated with Fugro on the project phasing to accelerate the overall development process.

The geophysical survey campaign will study seabed conditions within the project lease area and potential export cable corridors in the New York Bight. According to Community Wind, the data collected will help inform the project design and engineering, identifying potential geohazards and obstructions, as well as benthic habitats and archaeological resources.

“The start of the site survey is an important milestone for the project,” said Doug Perkins, President and Project Director of Community Offshore Wind. “The technical data collected will help us develop a more responsible and cost-effective project design.  Our success relies on communication, safety, and collaboration with other parties out on the water.”

To that end, Community Offshore Wind reports its team is working closely with area fisheries to prevent the disruption of commercial and recreational fishing over the course of the survey’s duration. Local commercial fishermen will be onboard the survey vessels to manage communication and coordinate with fishing fleets. Before the start of the survey, one of Community Offshore Wind’s fisheries representatives, a commercial fisherman from Barnegat Light, New Jersey, also scouted the area for fishing gear and other potential obstructions.

On Monday, as the companies were announcing that they were preparing to start the survey work, a New Jersey-based environmental group, Clean Ocean Action, held a press conference on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey to highlight what they called an “unprecedented” rate of whale deaths in the New York – New Jersey area. Three whales had reportedly beached in the past few days while the group stated that a total of six whales had come ashore in the past 33 days.

The group was attempting to link the whale deaths with the commencement of the survey work and other efforts ongoing at the various offshore sites for future wind farms. The organizers of the event questioned the survey which they said uses focuses pulses of low-frequency sound in the same frequency that whales hear and communicate, which could potentially harm or disorient the animals. The group along with other groups including Protect Our Coast NJ, Save Long Beach Island, Defend Brigantine Beach, and the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said they were sending a letter to President Joe Biden calling for a suspension of all activities for the offshore wind farms until the cause of the deaths was determined.

The Associated Press in its reporting cited a marine mammal stranding expert who said while the cause of the deaths is unknown, it could be a simple function of a larger-than-normal number of whales in the area this winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, also emphasizes that it has been studying all whale deaths and none of the deaths have been linked to any activities for offshore wind farms. About 40 percent of the deaths NOAA says showed evidence of having been struck by a ship or having become entangled in ropes, lines, or fishing gear. 

The offshore wind developers have said they expect noise from their projects will disturb some marine life but the deaths mostly in December came before the work began on the surveys. Most of the disturbance is expected from the pile-driving activities to set the foundations for the wind farms.