Oil Companies Prosecuted for Avian Deaths but Wind Companies Kill Birds With Impunity

Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210,

Mallards by Dan Lebbin
Mallard female and male. Photo may be used with credit to Dan Lebbin, ABC.

(September 7, 2011) The United States Attorney in North Dakota has charged seven oil companies in seven separate cases with violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for the illegal killing of 28 migratory birds. Yet, American Bird Conservancy – the nation’s leading bird conservation organization – reports that the wind industry, despite killing more than 400,000 birds annually, has yet to face a single charge.

The oil-related bird deaths, which included members of twelve different species, occurred between May 4 and June 20, 2011. The statutory maximum sentence for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is six months in federal prison and a $15,000 fine. The date for the initial appearances for the seven companies is set for September 22, 2011, in United States District Court, Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I commend the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department for enforcing the law in these cases. Oil pits are a known hazard to birds and the solutions to prevent these bird deaths are straightforward to implement,” said American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick. “It is perplexing that similar prosecutions have yet to be brought against the operators of wind farms. Every year wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds, including eagles, hawks, and songbirds, but the operators are being allowed to get away with it. It looks like a double standard.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated in 2009 that about 440,000 birds were being killed by wind turbines. With an anticipated twelve-fold wind energy build-out by the year 2030, bird mortality is expected to dramatically increase in the coming years, absent significant changes in the way wind farms are sited and operated. Based on studies, one wind farm in California is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 eagles, plus thousands of other birds, yet no prosecution has been initiated for violations of federal laws protecting birds. The FWS is presently contemplating enacting voluntary – not mandatory – guidelines for the siting and operation of wind farms.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the birds died after landing in oil waste pits associated with the companies’ oil and gas extraction facilities in North Dakota. The birds land in the pits believing they are ponds and become contaminated with the oil. Birds can become poisoned and drown as a result. Court records show that all seven companies have previously been charged with similar violations.

The birds killed in the oil pits were mostly waterfowl, including Mallards, Gadwall, Northern Pintails, a Northern Shoveler,  Blue-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, Redhead and a Ring-necked Duck, but also included a Solitary Sandpiper, and Says Phoebe.

In Bismarck, United States Attorney Tim Purdon said, “These allegations of violations of the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act by companies operating in North Dakota’s oil patch should be
troubling to those interested in preserving North Dakota’s rich heritage of hunting and fishing
and to the many oil companies who work hard to follow the laws protecting our wildlife. At the
North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office, we are committed to enforcing laws that protect North
Dakota’s outdoors and to providing companies who follow the law with a level economic
playing field.”