Aflockalypse Now?

Scientists have yet to determine what might have caused nearly 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, starlings, grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds to fall out of the sky on New Year’s Eve. But that hasn’t stopped experts from offering a host of potential contributing factors, with some of the leading theories currently focused on the impact of fireworks, thunderstorms, cold weather patterns, parasites, pumpkin seeds and even a slight shift to the east of the earth’s magnetic North Pole toward Russia.

All that said, absent a sudden and widespread deluge of floods, frogs and/or locusts, scientists have been quick to assure the public that the world as we know it is not quite coming to an end. The National Geographic News captures the consensus view held by renowned experts examining the phenomenon:

[T]he in-air bird deaths aren’t due to some apocalyptic plague or insidious experiment—they happen all the time, scientists say. The recent buzz, it seems, was mainly hatched by media hype.

At any given time there are “at least ten billion birds in North America … and there could be as much as 20 billion—and almost half die each year due to natural causes,” said ornithologist Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

For most folks, that would seem a reasonable explanation. But if you happen to be someone whose day rises and sets around an obsession aimed at preventing the responsible development of natural gas from taking place in America – well, let’s just say you might have a different point of view. Bird deaths in Arkansas? Must be because of hydraulic fracturing. Dove deaths in Italy? Must be the same. Fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay. You guessed it. Here’s just a sampling of some of the stuff you’ll see these days from a few fringe folks on the blogs:

Is this a cover up? Is it denial? Fracturing is unregulated and utilized globally. Is it possible that the turtle doves in Italy, the fish in Chesapeake Bay, the birds of New Zealand and Switzerland succumbed due to the use of fracturing? Until in-depth analysis of the dead wildlife is conducted, the world will not know.

Of course, all this would make for a good laugh and not a whole lot more if these unsubstantiated (and irresponsible) charges remained confined to the outer-reaches of the Internet. But would you believe that EID has now gotten three separate press inquiries from otherwise serious reporters asking whether the accusations – even absent a single shred of scientific corroboration – might be true?

Our response, of course, is as you’d expect: No truth to the rumors that the 60-year-old well-stimulation technology called hydraulic fracturing suddenly caused thousands of birds to simultaneously drop from the sky. But as for last weekend’s victory by the Seahawks over the heavily favored Saints — that’s got hydraulic fracturing written all over it. No use trying to deny it.

Truth be told, the Arkansas bird story isn’t even the first time we’ve had to deal with this particular brand of ridiculousness. Remember last year’s tragic earthquakes in Haiti? The ones that resulted in the direct loss of at least 230,000 human beings and the injury and displacement of hundreds of thousands more? Looking for a little insight into the lengths that some folks will go to use a tragedy as a means of advancing specific political ends? Go to Google and type “Haiti earthquake” and “hydraulic fracturing” in the search field, and what you’ll find looks something like this:

The earthquakes may have just been a large hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” operation designed to release the hydrocarbons from isolated pockets … Or, perhaps drilling at the existing wellheads in Port au Prince some 20 to 30 miles North of the fault line or offshore in the Bay of Port au Prince may have linked up with existing fractures and interconnected to affect the fault-line and cause the earthquake as an unintended consequence.

Seriously, guys? Is this what this debate has come to?

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