Actions By Feds Cut Annual Bird Deaths In Oil And Gas Fields By Half

Actions Saving Over One Million Birds From Grisly Death

Thursday, January 3, 2013
Northern Pintail
Northern Pintail
- photo by Owen Deutsch

According to a recently-released policy document from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), migratory bird deaths at oil and gas operation waste pits have been reduced by 50 -75 percent in the last 15 years, saving an estimated one to one and a half million birds from grisly deaths caused by their landing in chemical-laden waste water pits associated with oil and gas operations. The policy document says that bird mortality has been reduced from about two million per year in 1997 to between 500,000 and 1,000,000 per year today.

“Seeing this downward trend in bird mortality is great news. Enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by dedicated staff of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and implementation of Best Management Practices by BLM is obviously making a difference. And the willingness of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute offenses clearly provides the needed incentive to make sure that the industry shows diligence in following the law,” said Dr. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations.

Dr. Fenwick said further that, “I have every reason to believe that with continued persistence by the feds, that this downward trend in the oil and gas industry will continue. In the meantime ABC is still deeply concerned about birds killed by the fast-growing wind power industry, as it continues to rely on unenforceable voluntary guidelines for its operations.”

The reduced bird mortality for traditional energy developers was reported in BLM Instruction Memorandum -- IM 2013-033 -- which establishes policy for reducing preventable causes of direct wildlife mortality associated with fluid mineral facilities authorized by the agency. Fluid mineral facilities include oil, gas, and geothermal facilities and associated structures authorized by the BLM. The IM also addresses Best Management Practices (BMP) for reducing the risk of direct wildlife mortality from various fluid mineral practices on public lands.

The policy seeks to establish a consistent approach to management practices designed to ensure BLM and operator compliance with wildlife protection laws and regulations. Toward that end, the IM directs that all BLM field offices will ensure that new fluid mineral-related permit approvals contain appropriate BMPs for reducing the risk of harm to wildlife species protected under law, regulation, or BLM policy.

During inspections and site visits, BLM will ensure operator implementation and maintenance of effective wildlife protection measures. The operator is expected to notify the nearest FWS law enforcement office upon discovery of a dead or injured migratory bird, bald or golden eagle, or Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA)-listed or other species protected under Federal statute. If the BLM becomes aware of such mortality or injury, the BLM will contact the operator. If the operator is unable or unwilling to make the notification, the BLM field office will notify the FWS Law Enforcement office or the nearest FWS Ecological Services office. The BLM field office and the FWS, will attempt to determine the cause of mortality and the BLM, in coordination with the FWS, will evaluate and identify appropriate mitigation measures to avoid future occurrences.

The IM targets a common bird mortality threat in oil and gas operations – open, fluid-filled pits. It references the Wyoming Ecological Services Field Office of the FWS who states that “Deterrents (to birds landing in these deadly, chemical-laden pits) such as flagging, strobe lights, metal reflectors and noise makers are not effective at preventing bird mortalities from occurring in oil pits.”

The FWS office has stated further that “Oil industry regulators that recommend flagging to oil operators as a bird deterrent for oil pits place the oil operators at risk for prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” The FWS recommends solutions to the open pit problem and states that “…netting appears to be the most effective method of keeping birds from entering wastewater evaporation ponds and skim pits.”

Just last month, because of efforts by BLM, FWS and DOJ, a Denver-based oil and gas company was fined $22,500 in connection with the deaths of birds at the company’s drilling facilities in Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. The fine was imposed after SM Energy Company pled guilty to three misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition to the fine, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby placed the company on probation for one year and ordered it to pay $7,500 toward improvement of migratory bird habitat. Ostby also ordered the company to continue implementing a $300,000 remediation program intended to prevent future bird deaths at the company's facilities.


Fishing Report From The TWRA

Here is the fishing report from the TWRA: Center Hill Reservoir :  Reservoir Conditions :  Current water elevation is 632.5.  The water surface temperature is averaging 40 degrees.  Saturday the water was stained in the back of creeks and clearer out in the main river. Largemouth Bass :  Fishermen had few bites but when they did, they were ... (click for more)

Land Trust For Tennessee's Emily Parish To Lead March Nature @ Noontime Program

Emily Parish, director of Conservation for the Land Trust for Tennessee will be the featured speaker for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s March Nature @ Noontime. The program will be held on Thursday, March 5, at the TWRA’s Region II Ray Bell Building in the Ellington Agriculture Complex. Ms. Parish will speak about the history and programs for The Land Trust for ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Placed Under Winter Storm Watch

Hamilton County has been placed under a Winter Storm Watch with a prediction of freezing rain, sleet and snow for Thursday. The new wintry mix is slated to begin around midnight on Wednesday and continue through 4 p.m. on Thursday. There could be up to two inches of snow following up on last week's eight inches.  Here is the Winter Storm Watch: ...WINTER STORM ... (click for more)

Henry Hopes To Bring E-Filing To Clerk's Office This Year; Saving Almost $222,000 On Personnel

Circuit Court Clerk Larry Henry said he hopes to E-Filing of documents and other court papers to the clerk’s office this year.   He said at first it appeared it might take much longer, but that progress is being made to the online program. Mr. Henry told members of the Pachyderm Club that attorneys, litigants and members of the public would be able to go online to view ... (click for more)

Tennessee Deserves Better Health Reform - And Response

Tennessee needs health care reform. Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," was not the best solution for Tennesseans. That is why the vast majority of Tennessee legislators never publicly supported the plan defeated in a special legislative session in February.   It is important to distinguish health care from health insurance. As one physician ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our Insult To Israel

I am deeply saddened that over two dozen members of Congress – all Democrats – will be boycotting a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, when he speaks in Washington tonight. I am also offended that the President of the United States will not receive Netanyahu prior to the speech – a customary gesture on such occasions – because he claims it is too close to ... (click for more)