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Chevron’s Gift to National Parks is a Win for the Desert Tortoise

Chevron may have had some unfortunate publicity misses lately (I hope that pizza is at least New York style), but the company is doing good elsewhere in the country, and it should get more press than pizza.  Chevron built the Ivanpah Desert Tortoise Research Facility, a solar powered research facility next to the Mojave National Preserve in California.  The company has now donated the facility to the National Park Service at Mojave, and it is now used to hatch and study the threatened desert tortoise that makes the region its home.

Peter Bergeron, Chevron’s Environmental Project Manager, explained part of the scope of the project:

We removed roughly 15 miles of pipeline, a majority of that that crossed critical desert tortoise habitat. Part of our mitigation was to actually build a structure that the researchers could use to understand what’s actually happening to this species of animal.

The facility is also extremely energy efficient, according to Bergeron, “[i]t’s probably 95-plus percent off the grid.”  The National Park Service will use the facility for tortoise research and protection.  Hatching young tortoises and introducing them to the wild is a prime focus.

Desert Tortoise. Image courtesy Chevron.com

Desert Tortoise. Image courtesy Chevron.com

The desert tortoise is listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  Their habitat covers small patches of desert, primarily in Southern California.  This desert landscape is also perfect real estate for large-scale solar power installations, and that creates a dilemma for conservationists.  We want clean energy, but we also want to protect our vulnerable species.  Solar power plants are drawing mixed reviews from environmental advocates lately because of their potential to disrupt wildlife, and some of these concerns are well founded.  Companies that step up and take some responsibility for their environmental impact are so incredibly rare though, that Chevron deserves some serious merit for its role in mitigating the threat to tortoises in the region.  I’m almost never one to stand up and cheer for a fossil fuel based energy company, but I’ll focus on the good being done here, especially in terms of research for tortoises and the desert ecosystem.

Chevron isn’t the only energy company that should be lauded for making some effort to maintain the desert ecosystem.  The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, owned by NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, and Google, has a care program for desert tortoises aimed at helping repopulate the area.  The Ivanpah tortoise pens are located right on-site at the giant thermal solar plant.

Ivanpah solar plant.  Tortoise pen area is highlighted in yellow.  Image courtesy of wikimapia. Click to enlarge.

Ivanpah solar plant. Tortoise pen area is highlighted in yellow. Image courtesy of wikimapia. Click to enlarge.

The tortoise care program at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is of critical benefit to the animals because like all species of tortoises and turtles, desert tortoise hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predation.  Predators like ravens, foxes, and coyotes make easy prey of young tortoises.  Caring for hatchlings until they are large enough to resist such predators gives these tortoises a significant “head-start” to life in the wild.    According to a release by the National Parks Trust, “Chevron also has donated funds to NPT that are being used to fund tortoise research at the facility over several years.”

I’ll take solar power over a coal burning power plant any day.  I hope to see the trend of renewable energy continue, and I hope to see the actions taken by Chevron, and NRG at the Ivanpah plant, to mitigate their own environmental impact catch on to other companies.  I am under no delusion that Chevron, or any company, has a squeaky clean environmental track record.  We experience too many oil, chemical, coal, and other pollutants seeping into our environment every day when fossil fuels are mismanaged.  Companies (including Chevron itself) responsible for that kind of pollution should be as conscientious about those chemicals as Chevron is being about these tortoises in California.

Do these companies making contributions to wildlife benefit from tax deductions and positive press?  And is that a bigger motivator for them to do these projects than just the health of the environment?  Probably, but at least some good comes from it.  So, bravo to Chevron, for the Ivanpah Desert Tortoise Research Facility, and to NRG Energy, BrightSource, and Google for their efforts at the Invanpah solar thermal plant.  I’m sure there are a lot of tortoises out there that would give you a standing ovation.  If they could stand . . . or clap.

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