Bill Maher And George Will's Energy Claims Factchecked

Bill Maher And George Will's Energy Claims Factchecked

This past Sunday, when Bill Maher claimed on ABC's "This Week" that the nation of Brazil "got off oil" in the 1970's, I thought to myself, "Oh, man. Let's get them Politifact boys up in here!" George Will challenged the point a minute later, and even Maher seemed to realize that the die was cast:

WATCH (0:24-1:57):

Later in the show, I had a similar reaction when George Will claimed that wind farms would claim the lives of more birds than the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would:

Brazil does produce a lot of sugarcane ethanol, as Maher said.

"Brazil is one of the largest producers of ethanol in the world and is the largest exporter of the fuel," according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that collects and analyzes energy information.

Additionally, more than half of all cars in Brazil are flexible-fuel capable, which means they can run on 100 percent ethanol or an ethanol-gasoline mixture.


But even though Brazil aggressively uses biofuels, and invests quite a bit in hydroelectric power, it still produces and consumes a lot of oil.

In 2008, Brazil ranked No. 7 on the list of the world's countries that consume the most oil, using about 2.5 million barrels per day. In first place was the United States at 19.5 million barrels per day, followed by China, Japan, India, Russia, and Germany, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Brazil also produces a lot of oil through drilling near its coasts. In recent years, Brazil's state-controlled energy company Petrobras announced a major new find of oil in some of the deepest waters where exploration is conducted, some 7,000 feet below in the Atlantic Ocean. The find is expected to make Brazil even more important in the oil export business. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that Brazil will become a net exporter of oil this year, even before the new fields are tapped.

As to the birds, Anthony De Rosa points us in the direction of the relevant statistics. Granted, they come from the American Wind Energy Association, but nevertheless, this seems to be pretty cut and dried:

How many birds collide with wind turbines?

A: Only a few studies have examined the frequency of bird collisions for significant numbers of wind turbines -- one in Denmark and two in California. These indicate that a bird will collide with a given wind machine no more than approximately once every 8 to 15 years.[1] Higher levels of mortality have been found by some studies of smaller numbers of turbines in coastal locations with large concentrations of waterfowl,[2] and it seems appropriate to use greater caution in siting wind projects in such areas or in known areas of high migration.[3]

In the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (which has some 7,000 wind turbines), a two-year study found 182 dead birds, of which 119 were raptors. The study attributed 55 percent of raptor deaths to collisions with turbines, eight percent to electrocutions from power lines, 11 percent to collisions with wires, and 26 percent to unknown causes.[4]

Q: How many birds die in collisions with other human structures?

A: It is estimated that each year, 57 million birds die in collisions with vehicles; 1.25 million in collisions with tall structures (towers, stacks, buildings); and more than 97.5 million in collisions with plate glass.[5]


[1] "Impact of Wind Turbines on Birdlife: An Overview of Existing Data and Lacks in Knowledge in Order of the European Community," Benner, J. H. B., et al, Concept (Draft) Final Report, July, 1992, pp. 22-23. Consultants on Energy & the Environment (CEA), Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

[2] "Impact of Wind Turbines on Birdlife," note 1, supra.

[3] This is intended only as a general caution. At many locations within known migratory routes, migrating birds fly at levels well above wind turbine rotor heights and are not threatened by wind project development.

[4]"Wind Turbine Effects on Avian Activity, Habitat Use, and Mortality in Altamont Pass and Solano County Wind Resource Areas, 1989-1991," Orloff, S., and Flannery, A., 1992, Executive Summary, p. x. Biosystems Analysis, Inc., Sacramento, Calif., 1992.

[5] "Kenetech Windpower Avian Research Program Update," 1994, p. 3. Kenetech Windpower, Washington, D.C.

By contrast, Scientific American reports that the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 resulted in the deaths of "250,000 seabirds."

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