Is Fracking Causing Blackbird Deaths and Earthquakes?

  • Published on January 6th, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock must be smiling. Officials are still telling people the recent fish and bird deaths in Arkansas and Louisiana that some have dubbed “aflockalypse” are perfectly normal – while also admitting they have no idea what really caused the die-offs.

Stepping into that information vacuum, bloggers are asking if there’s a link between the deaths and nearby natural gas fracking operations. Fracking can release toxic chemicals into the water supply, and there are more than 3,000 wells scattered across the region.

This part of Arkansas has been suffering from a plague of earthquakes. And while experts are claiming no connection between the fracking and the quakes, that’s not convincing many locals:

Residents in North Central Arkansas are understandably on edge. Since the first of the year [2010] there have been more than 340 earthquakes reported in that part of the state ranging from a .2  all the way up to a 4.0, about a third of them near the small town of Guy.  The quakes have been happening in the heart an area known as the Fayetteville Shale where natural gas drilling is occurring.

…Many Arkansans are questioning whether drilling is causing the tremendous number of quakes. Guy mayor Sam Higdon says he doesn’t know but most of his town has an opinion.

Sam Higdon says, “They think it’s the drilling, just the people you talk to.”

And one state official at least is looking into the matter. Scott Ausbrooks, geohazards supervisor for the Arkansas Geological Survey, is investigating whether reinjection wells used to dispose of fracking fluids could be causing the quakes.

See map, left, for blogger proamlib’s helpful juxtaposition of the quakes, the dead fish and birds, and the Fayetteville Shale formation (click for a larger image).

Aflockalypse

Locals are asking: Could there have been a methane release that killed fish in the river and birds in the air? There were six earthquakes in the 48 hours before the bird deaths, centered near Guy (about 50 miles from Beebe).

Three thousand birds don’t just drop out of the sky every day. And it’s not reassuring when officials tell you they know for sure it’s nothing out of the ordinary – when they also admit they have absolutely no idea what the cause is.

“Wildlife officials say the fish deaths are not related to the dead birds, and that because only one species of fish was affected, it is likely they were stricken by an illness.” But if they don’t know what caused the deaths, how can they possibly know they were unrelated?

Likewise, if they have no idea what killed 100,000 drumfish and a handful of other species (5% of the fish were NOT drumfish), then how can Arkansas Game and Fish officials tell people “it’s fine to fish“?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Why is it public officials’ first instinct is to say “No problem”, whether it’s in the movie “Jaws” or the reality of Texas and Arkansas?

Consider Cleburn, Texas, in June of 2009. They’d never ever had an earthquake, but they had a whole lot of fracking going on.

When the town was rattled for the first time in its history by a 2.8 temblor, “Everyone called it a coincidence.”

In the next week, four additional quakes were detected in and around the city. Although the tremors were mild – as low as magnitude 2.1 – they still were noteworthy for North Texas.

“If you look at the history of earthquakes in Texas, it’s unusual to have any down there,” said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

“I’d be somewhat concerned about what’s going on if I lived there,” he said.

No wonder the folks in Beebe aren’t reassured by officials telling them “Everything is just fine.”

->-> Next Page: Some possible explanations?

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.

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