LEXINGTON, Ky. – According to a report Wednesday, a joint study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids are believed to be the cause of the widespread death or distress of aquatic species in Kentucky’s Acorn Fork creek, after a 2007 spill from nearby natural gas well sites.
After the spill of hydraulic fracturing fluid, state and federal scientists observed a significant die-off of aquatic life in Acorn Fork including the Blackside dace as well as several more common species like the Creek chub and Green sunfish. Blackside dace are a species of ray-finned fish found only in the Cumberland River basin of Kentucky and Tennessee and the Powell River basin of Virginia. It has been listed as a federally-threatened species by the Service since 1987.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wereh alerted by a local resident who witnessed the fish die-off. To determine the cause of the fish die-off, the researchers collected water and fish samples immediately following the chemical release in 2007.
The analyses and results of the study show that the hydraulic fracturing fluids degraded water quality in Acorn Fork, to the point that the fish developed gill lesions, and suffered liver and spleen damage as well.
“This is an example of how the smallest creatures can act as a canary in a coal mine,” said Tony Velasco, Ecologist for the Fish and Wildlife office in Kentucky, who coauthored the study, and initiated a multi-agency response when it occurred in 2007. “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.”
According to the Center for Biological Study, “fracking fluid threatens freshwater species and drinking water supplies because of both the large quantity of water needed to inject into wells and the toxic substances used. Massive quantities of water are withdrawn from creeks and lakes to inject into wells, drying up habitats and decreasing water supplies. Fracking fluids can contaminate both groundwater and surface water because the waste that returns to the surface is acidic and can be contaminated with both heavy metals and radioactive particles.”
The USGS reports that hydraulic fracturing is the most common method for natural gas well-development in Kentucky.
The report is published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist.