New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

ConservationPosted 4/28/11
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Fracking for Natural Gas Threatens Birds
Donald A. Windsor
Published in the January 2011 issue of NY Birders

Drilling for natural gas will devastate much of our landscape in central New York. Any habitat sitting on a drilling site will be removed. Each drilling site will occupy 5 to 10 acres. These sites could be plentiful enough to pockmark a multi-county area in Region 4 as well as in adjacent Regions.

The hydraulic fracturing "fracking" technique liberates the gas from shale by pumping millions of gallons of poisonous water under high pressure deep into the ground. The water retrieved is stored in holding ponds. Any birds drinking, wading, or swimming in this toxic fluid will pay with their lives. This doomsday scenario seems inevitable, in spite of widespread opposition, because of all the money that gas will bring.

Our breeding bird atlas provides a baseline for species that are here now. After a few years of gas drilling, the changes could be abrupt and should be closely monitored. Unfortunately, the habitat destruction and the toxic ponds will affect migrants as well as breeders.

Detailed mechanics of fracking are available at www.hydraulicfracturing.com. A good source of news about fracking is www.pressconnects.com/marcellusshale.

Regional Reports in The Kingbird emphasize uncommon birds and tend to ignore common ones. I urge the editors in gas drilling Regions to start paying attention to all species. Some species, such as starlings and House Sparrows, could proliferate, unless they are poisoned or purposely killed by the drillers. The Regions where fracking is likely are those over the Marcellus, Herkimer, and Utica shales, which is much of upstate New York. Even the DEC is eager to drill in state forests.

Everyone wants fracking to be safe. But safety in the public mind consists of protecting drinkable water. Birds are the least of the public's concern. That is where we come in. Birders around fracking areas have to keep impeccable records. The gas drillers are well financed and will strongly oppose any bird reports they do not like. They may even bring in their own well-credentialed expert birders to assure everyone that everything is OK and not to worry.

The disappearance of a species from a given area is difficult to prove. Multiple attempts to record it are necessary. Quantitative, rather than qualitative, surveys should be undertaken to document any changes in populations.

Almost all of the habitat in central New York was devastated in the 1800s when the area was deforested. Gas drilling has the potential to become the next large scale devastation. The DEC is scheduled to release its regulations in May 2011. Gas drilling will begin soon after. We should be ready. Any Big Days in May should be well documented and the results put into the public domain. The Big Days of 2011 could become very pivotal data points for future reference. If this article sounds alarmist, it is. I am sounding an alarm. Fracking for natural gas threatens birds!

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