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Fish and wildlife: entire populations at risk even with small fracking spills

Amy Mall

Posted August 29, 2013 in Health and the Environment, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently published a peer-reviewed journal article that discusses the results of the investigation into a 2007 fracking wastewater spill in Kentucky. Fracking wastewater that was being stored in open air pits (a practice that NRDC opposes because, among other reasons, it can lead to toxic spills) overflowed into Kentucky's Acorn Fork Creek and left an orange-red substance, contaminating the creek with hydrochloric acid, dissolved minerals and metals, and other contaminants.

Prior to this pollution, the creek was so clean that it was designated an Outstanding State Resource Water. The Creek provides excellent habitat for the Blackside dace, a small colorful minnow protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it is a threatened species.

State and federal scientists found that the toxic fracking waste "killed virtually all aquatic wildlife in a significant portion of the fork." The dead and distressed fish had developed gill lesions and suffered liver and spleen damage.

The lead USGS scientist in the investigation stated: "Our study is a precautionary tale of how entire populations could be put at risk even with small-scale fluid spills."

One of the things that bothers me the most about this case is that the scientists had been alerted to the fish kill "by a local resident." All spills are supposed to be reported--by the oil and gas company--to the National Response Center.

You know how companies have been telling the public for years that frack fluid is mostly water and safe ingredients that are found in your home? We've also been saying for years that, even diluted, the frack fluid ingredients can be very harmful to health, and this case is just additional evidence. Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for enforcing the law and levying the largest fine ever for a violation of the ESA in Kentucky. While the fine was only $50,000, it is larger than many other fines paid by the oil and gas industry. Regulators should be imposing the highest penalties allowed under the law to start to create an incentive for the oil and gas industry to stop violating regulations.

This one case illustrates:

  • the unacceptable risk of open air toxic waste pits in the oil and gas industry;
  • why we need safe setbacks so that oil and gas operations are prohibited from being this close to important water sources;
  • the toxicity of fracking fluid and wastewater.
  • the lack of oil and gas industry accountability when it comes to preventing and reporting dangerous spills of toxic waste.
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Comments

Michael BerndtsonAug 30 2013 10:20 AM

Amy,
A pre-emptive apology here - but you sound like the lone locust trying to tell the swarm to cool it with all the plaguing. There's so much momentum behind unfettered shale gas exploitation that environmental protection measures are becoming pretty much after-the-fact. Sounding something like: "it would probably have been a good idea if the environmental impact of fracking was looked at." I realize NRDC is naturally litigious and speculation isn't necessarily a good thing. However, a good plan is all about speculation, no? Then again I am speculating here.

Amy MallAug 30 2013 11:33 AM

Hi Michael: I agree that regulators are playing catch-up, and are failing even at that. Instead, they should be ahead of the game. NRDC's position is that there should not be any expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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