Appalachian Basin

Pennsylvania DEP & PFBC Say No Link Between Fracking and Smallmouth Bass Decline

Over the last few years there has been a startling decline in the number of smallmouth bass found in the Susquehanna River, and just this past May, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) released some scary photos of one of these bass that was stricken with cancerous tumors. Naturally, anti-fracking activists jumped on the opportunity to link the situation to hydraulic fracturing, but new reports from PFBC and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirm that fracking is not the cause of this troubling phenomenon. In fact, the issues began before Marcellus Shale development became prolific in the Commonwealth.


DEP Secretary John Quigley and PFBC Executive Director John Arway spoke on WITF’s Smart Talk earlier this week and addressed this issue. From Pennsylvania State Impact:

There’s no evidence any of this is related to hydraulic fracturing,” Quigley said. “The real decline in the smallmouth bass population really occurred in the first year or so of unconventional shale gas development, and the wells weren’t even drilled in the Susquehanna River basin.”

“I agree,” said Arway. “We have no evidence to suggest that fracking is connected because of the timing of when the problems occurred.”

When did the problems first occur? Also from Pennsylvania State Impact:

Since 2005 the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has documented outbreaks of disease in young bass that left them with open sores and lesions. Researchers have also found intersex fish – adult males with female eggs in their testes – since the early 2000s. The problems have threatened Pennsylvania’s $3.4 billion recreational fishing industry.”

As noted by Quigley and Arway, the timing doesn’t line up with Marcellus development in the region, considering the first Marcellus Shale well wasn’t actually developed until November 2004—and it was in Washington County, far from the Susquehanna River Basin (SRB). Development in Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) didn’t take off until closer to 2009. And some of the most heavily developed counties in NEPA (Bradford, Lycoming Susquehanna, and Tioga) didn’t surpass the Southwestern part of the state for shale development until 2010—five years after the issues with the bass population began.

The following data are found on DEP’s website:

PAWellsDrilled05 PAWellsDrilled06 PAWellsDrilled07 PAWellsDrilled08 PAWellsDrilled09 PAWellsDrilled10

Pennsylvania’s fishing industry is a multi-billion dollar contributor to Pennsylvania’s economy, so identifying the cause of these issues is an important priority. But while groups like Occupy the Constitution Pipeline and Friends of Lackawanna try to blame fracking for this serious problem, the timeline shows that this is not accurate.

Further, the premise of the activists’ attempt to link this problem with fracking centers on waste being released into the waterways. But the majority of water used in the fracking process in the Marcellus is recycled and reused, not sent to treatment facilities or deep well injection. In 2013, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported:

“Across the state, more than 90 percent of the water that flows back to the surface during the hydraulic fracturing process is recycled for reuse at other wells, according the state Department of Environmental Protection.” (emphasis added)

So if fracking isn’t the issue then what is? DEP released a report in December that identified some potential causes including endocrine-disrupting compounds, herbicides, pathogens and parasites that could be caused from a variety of sources.

Now that both DEP and PFBC have said that fracking is not linked to the bass issues, one can hope these anti-fracking groups will focus their efforts on helping state agencies find the real problem and develop solutions, instead of fear-mongering in their ideological crusade to stop the safe development of energy.

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