U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Study Finds Fracking Fluid Spill in Kentucky May Have Killed Threatened Fish Species

Hydraulic fracturing fluids from nearby natural gas wells probably harmed endangered fish in a Kentucky creek, according to two federal agencies by Jennifer A. Dlouhy, August 28, 2013, FuelFix
In a joint study, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service said fracturing fluid…caused the threatened Blackside dace minnow and other fish to die off when it was spilled in a small Appalachian creek in 2007. London, Ky.-based Nami Resources Co. pleaded guilty to violating federal endangered species and clean water laws in 2009 in connection with the incident, when subcontractors working at four of the company’s wells failed to properly dispose of fracturing fluids used at the sites. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the fluids discharged into the upper reaches of Acorn Fork, a small Appalachian creek, contaminating it with hydrochloric acid and other chemicals. … Survey scientist Diana Papoulias, the lead author of the study, said the episode “is a precautionary tale of how entire populations could be put at risk even with small-scale fluid spills.” 

The study is published in a special edition of Southeastern Naturalist. According to the report, water in Acorn Fork became more acidic, with the pH level dropping from 7.5 to 5.6, after the fracturing fluids entered the creek. Water samples also showed higher levels of iron, aluminum and other dissolved elements. … The new government study notes that contamination can compound existing environmental problems, particularly in areas such as the Appalachian Highlands, where mining, logging, agriculture and development have already degraded aquatic ecosystems and fragmented freshwater fish populations. “As efforts accelerate to unleash new energy sources, application of technolo- gies such as hydraulic fracturing can, if not carefully developed, compound the effects of ecosystem degradation caused by past resource extraction,” the study’s authors write.

The Blackside dace are a minnow found in just three states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The ray-finned fish has been listed as a federally threatened species since 1987. The main threat to the fish, which the Fish and Wildlife Service says generally lives in small, isolated groups, is loss of habitat. The timing of the 2007 spill was particularly rough for the Blackside dace, the study authors note, because it occurred during the spawning season. Because it is unclear how many dace were killed after the 2007 spill, the study sought to examine whether fracturing-related degradation of Acorn Fork’s water quality could have harmed the minnow.

Federal agency: fracking liquids harmed Ky. fish by Associated Press, August 28, 2013, WHAS11.com
FLAT LICK, Ky. (AP) — A federal report is blaming a spill of hydraulic fracturing fluids for harming a fish population in a small stream in southeastern Kentucky. The study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service says the liquids are believed to be the cause of a die-off of Blackside dace that lived in the Acorn Fork, a small creek in Knox County. The small minnow-like fish is considered at risk by federal officials due of a loss of habitat. The spill occurred in 2007, and officials collected samples shortly after. …  The report was published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist, in a special edition devoted to the Blackside dace.

Study Finds Fracking Fluid From 2007 Kentucky Spill May Have Killed Threatened Fish Species by James Gerken, Augut 28, 2013, The Huffington Post
A joint study from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released Wednesday found that a fracking fluid spill in Kentucky in 2007 likely caused the widespread death of several types of fish. Nami Resources Company, a London, Ky.-based oil and gas exploration company, spilled fracking fluid from four well sites into the Acorn Fork Creek in southeastern Kentucky in May and June 2007. Not long after, nearly all the aquatic life — including at least two fish from a threatened species — in the part of the stream near the spill died. Chemicals released during the spill included hydrochloric acid. After studying samples of the water and bodies of green sunfish and creek chub, government researchers have concluded that the spill acidified the stream and increased concentrations of heavy metals including aluminum and iron. Fish exposed to the water developed gill lesions and showed signs of liver and spleen damage, USGS announced in a press release. The gill lesions were consistent with “toxic concentrations of heavy metals,” the researchers concluded.

The stream is also home to the blackside dace (Chrosomus cumberlandensis), a small fish in the minnow and carp family which has been listed as threatened speices since 1987. Papoulias and Velasco said they weren’t able to gather any samples of the blackside dace, but they believe the impacts on the other fish suggest the threatened species was also negatively impacted by the spill. Two dead blackside dace were found downstream of Nami’s well immediately following the spill. Fracking fluid, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, is pumped underground at high pressure to stimulate the release of oil or natural gas through a drilled well. Energy companies have fought against the disclosure of chemicals used during fracking, but several states now require it. Nami Resources pleaded guilty to charges that it violated the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts in the spill and paid a $50,000 fine in October 2009, but blamed the incident on “independent contractors” who were not under the company’s direct supervision. “Our study is a precautionary tale of how entire populations could be put at risk even with small-scale fluid spills,” said USGS scientist and lead author Diana Papoulias in the release. “These species use the same water as we do, so it is just as important to keep our waters clean for people and for wildlife,” co-author Tony Velasco said. “This is an example of how the smallest creatures can act as a canary in a coal mine.” The study appears in a special 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Southeastern Naturalist. [Emphasis added]

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service Joint Study:

Histopathological Analysis of Fish from Acorn Fork Creek, Kentucky, Exposed to Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Releases by Diana M. Papoulias1 and Anthony L. Velasco, Ecology and Conservation of the Threatened Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis 2013 Southeastern Naturalist 12(Special Issue 4):92–111

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