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BP oil spill, fracking cause wildlife abnormalities

Published Apr 27, 2012 11:04 PM

The potential environmental hazards resulting from the oil and natural gas industry’s drive for super-profits are becoming increasingly apparent and alarming. The evidence is surfacing from the Gulf of Mexico, two years after the major BP oil spill, to the waters of the Susquehanna River, heavily impacted by a decade of Marcellus Shale fracking.

Fishers off the Gulf Coast have reported that up to 50 percent of grouper and red snapper caught have large open sores, strange black streaks and lesions never seen before. Scientists studying deep-sea coral reefs in the path of the 5 million barrels of drifting oil released during the April 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform found “widespread signs of stress,” according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20)

The scientists found much of the coral was covered with oil from the spill. Temple University biologist Eric Cordes noted the coral was in “an ongoing process of death. … [W]e could see that everywhere they had been covered, the tissue was either gone or completely degraded.”

Questions remain as to how extensive the damage to the deep-sea coral is and what other species have been impacted by the spill. Dolphins in the area are showing symptoms of lung and liver disease and are underweight and anemic. More than 75 percent of 8,366 birds collected by researchers since the spill were dead or died during rehabilitation.

Commercial fishers are finding horribly mutated shrimp with tumors on their heads. Some lack eyes and even eye sockets. Fishers also report finding clawless crabs “with shells that look like they’ve been burned off by chemicals.” At least 1.9 million gallons of the toxic dispersant Corexit was used to control the BP spill. (Aljazeera.com, April 18)

The amount of seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico, which normally provides more than 40 percent of all seafood caught in the continental U.S., is also significantly lower than before the spill. Scientists are concerned that the BP spill killed off large numbers of killifish, a marsh fish that serves as a food source for larger fish.

Dr. Jim Cowan of Louisiana State University cites chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), used experimentally by BP to disperse the massive April 2010 oil spill, as the likely cause of the abnormalities in fish and other wildlife. PAHs are known to be mutagenic, carcinogenic and teratogenic — able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus.

The BP oil spill also threatens the livelihoods of a number of small Indigenous fishing communities, like Bayou Pointe-au-Chien on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, whose members have historically fished the coastal waters. Even before the 2010 spill, canals built by the oil companies to access wells caused flooding in these towns from coastal erosion.

Louisiana state officials continue to maintain that their seafood is safe. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been described as “an enabler of the oil industry,” stated, “Gulf seafood has consistently tested lower than the safety thresholds established by the [Food and Drug Administration] for the levels of oil and dispersant contamination that would pose a risk to human health.” (Aljazeera, April 18)

Marcellus Shale fracking waste water

Studies of aquatic life in feeder streams leading to the Susquehanna River — ground zero for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling — are also reporting disturbing findings.

A survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission showed 40 percent of adult small-mouth bass within a section of the river had uncommon black spots and lesions.

Concerned over these spots and incidents of intersexing in the fish studied, FBC Executive Director John Arway formally requested in an April 4 letter that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection list the Susquehanna River as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. The request was rejected April 17 by DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who has been described by Food & Water Watch, Pennsylvania as a “notorious defender of fracking.”

Over 15 water treatment plants in Pennsylvania had been accepting frack waste water, laced with brine and toxic chemicals, and dumping it into rivers and streams. In November 2008, the Sunbury, Pa., Generation plant, just upstream from an area where black-spotted fish have since been found, was authorized to treat up to 80,000 gallons of gas-drilling waste fluids daily until operation was suspended in April 2011. Treated waste water from Sunbury and one other plant was discharged into the Susquehanna River.