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Fish with Black Splotches in the Susquehanna River

April 2, 2012

“People who know the Susquehanna River best are worried,” begins an editorial published this week in the Daily Item, from Central Pennsylvania. “Since fall, three or four of every 10 fish caught by anglers in the Susquehanna River have turned up with alarming black splotches.” First, hold the date: the next meeting of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, responsible for water quality in the tri-state Susquehanna River Basin, is June 7th. Now read on: excerpts from the March 27th, 2012 editorial, How many canaries must die?

Carl Shingara, who operates a tackle shop in Shamokin Dam said he has fished on the river for 50 years. Until last year, he had never noticed the type of abnormalities that are becoming common. He is far from alone. Dr. William Yingling, a retired physician, brought the situation to the attention of the newspaper. Yingling said a friend of his caught a blotched bass on Friday near Winfield, on the West Branch. Another angler reported to him a similar catch near Towanda, on the North Branch.

Bob Bachman, a member of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission urged the state and federal governments to launch investigations to determine what is causing the problem.

Concerns about water quality have been accelerating in recent years… Fisherman, such as Yingling, wonder whether treated gas drilling waste water might be to blame. A Shamokin Dam power plant was treating water used in drilling until last year. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered treatment plants to cease discharging gas drilling wastewater into waterways such as the Susquehanna River after chemicals were found in drinking water in western Pennsylvania. The Fish and Boat Commission has formed a Susquehanna River Policy Committee with representatives from the environmental regulatory groups, the Department of Agriculture and wildlife agencies.

Perhaps, while they are investigating, you could give a) put June 7th on your calendars — that’s the next SRBC meeting — and b) shout to all the governing Commissioners of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) — the governors of the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, which votes according to President Obama’s wishes. Tell them in no uncertain terms to stop fracking the Susquehanna River Basin! The SRBC, according to its compact, is responsible both for water quantity and water quality throughout the 440-mile long river and all its tributaries. The SRBC is completely failing to take care of its responsibility for water quality, deferring to PA DEP, which isn’t the least bit interested in any cumulative impact study and in fact is now run by a political appointee, Michael Krancer, who describes his job, “At the end of the day, my job is to do gas.”

In short, the SRBC has repeatedly rubber-stamped multi-billion gallon water withdrawals for consumptive use for fracking without any regard for the consequences, and only a tidal wave of public outrage will keep them from continuing to blithely accelerate the fracking permits. Without water, frackers can’t frack. With massive allotments of water, and no regulation of air emissions, wastewater pits, hazardous waste transportation or climate impacts, the destruction they carry out is rapid and out of control. The known failure rate for well casings is 6.2 percent for Marcellus wells for 2010 and 2011, and environmental violations are being found at a rate of 12 a day at Marcellus wells statewide. Those are just the violations found, a small proportion of violations committed.

“Just trust us” is not an adequate response to what is going on when 3 to 4 out of 10 fish are showing up with black splotches. The phone numbers of all four SRBC Commission members are here and below. That link is an “old but still good” Action Alert; just change your “ask” to this: “You must now rescind all the water withdrawal permits you issued for fracking during the illegitimate vote on March 15th, and vote “NO” on 100% of the water withdrawal permits up for a vote on June 7th. There must be a moratorium on water withdrawals for fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin. Why are fish turning up with black splotches? Why has there been no cumulative impact study for the Susquehanna River Basin, which is being fracked to hell? Why is the SRBC building itself a grand new home with permit money they receive from giving away Pennsylvania’s water to multinational corporations, to extract and export gas so the price will go up? Why all this frenzied environmental destruction to extract methane, a much more potent heat-trapping global warming gas than coal?

If you want to add more, state that the cumulative impact study must include the full life-cycle impacts of high-volume gas drilling, including infrastructure (pipelines, roadways, well pads, compressor stations) and especially regarding chemical spills, wastewater pits, flowback transportation and disposal, radioactive drill cuttings, and both legal and illegal dumping of toxic gas drilling brine on our roads and land. High-volume gas drilling doesn’t just kill fish; it kills animals, destroys people’s lives, and is destroying our climate. Tell all four members of the SRBC that they MUST stop rubber-stamping their criminal escalation of fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin. They will be held responsible for the results.

Please put special pressure on the Governor of Maryland and on President Obama, the likeliest “swing votes” on the four-vote Commission. New Yorkers, go to town on your Governor Cuomo because it’s abusive towards Pennsylvania that he’s voting “yes” to frack the life out of the Susquehanna River Basin even while New York maintains its own moratorium on the destructive, controversial practice. Are downstream Susquehanna River Basin residents less valuable than New Yorkers, who have a de facto ban on fracking?

The Daily Item said simply, in conclusion: “There is something clearly wrong with the river….What other warning sign are we waiting for?”

The Phone Numbers:  

Each Commissioner votes according to the Governor’s preference. For extra influence call both the Governor and the Commissioner. Please be respectful, patient, and extremely clear in delivering your message!!! You may have to explain a bit if you are one of the early callers. Thanks!

1. Maryland Governor Martin J. O’Malley (410) 974-3901 or (800) 811-8336

SRBC Commissioner: Dr. Robert M. Summers, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment (410) 537-3084


In writing: Governor O’Malley, State House, 100 State Circle, Annapolis,MD 21401 – 1925

2. New York Governor Cuomo (518) 474-8390 (9 – 5 a live person answers) or you may have better luck with (212) 681-4580

3. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (717) 787-2500  (8:30 AM – 6 PM live person answers)

4. President Obama (202) 456-1111 

Obama’s SRBC Commissioner: Colonel Christopher Larsen, Commander, North Atlantic Division,

US Army Corps of Engineers: (347) 370-4501

Amy Guise (who is apparently handling the vote for Colonel Larsen), Chief Civil Project Branch, Planning Division: (410) 962-6138

Once you’ve called, please consider following up with an email or snail mail letter for greater impact, and encourage groups you are part of to call and write as well. Please consider educating each Commissioner about specific instances of water contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing, and consider telling them about the terrible impacts on animal and human health so far. They truly may not know.

A fraction of the water contamination cases within the Susquehanna River Basin so far includes the 17 families whose drinking water was contaminated by Chesapeake Energy in Bradford County; the families evacuated due to the Chesapeake blowout last April; at least 19 families with contaminated water in Dimock, PA; another 13 families in Susquehanna County including Susan Breese; and Sherry Vargson, whose experience was summarized in Rolling Stone. These families, covered in the media, are just the tip of the iceberg.

  1. April 2, 2012 9:27 am

    Looks like June 7 SRBC meeting goes on our direct action calendar, but in the meantime let’s take all the other actions that Iris has proposed. Thanks for getting this around.


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