An explosive fire at an Ohio fracking well was likely the cause of a chemical leak into a stream that contributed to the death of fish as far as five miles away from the the fire’s site, Ohio officials said Monday.
Over the weekend, a mechanical malfunction sparked a fire on the well pad of a fracking operation in Monroe County, Ohio, a blaze that caused explosions and forced evacuations of people who lived within a mile of the well. The people were evacuated as a precaution “because of the chemicals in the smoke, for breathing reasons,” Phillip Keevert, director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency, told the Columbus Dispatch.
“The plume of smoke overwhelmed the whole area, so you couldn’t really see the fire itself very well,” he said. “The pad site is probably, I’m guessing, a 3-acre area.”
While crews were fighting the fire on Saturday, they flooded the well area, which likely sent fracking chemicals into a creek nearby the site. That spill in turn likely contributed to a “major fish kill” in the creek that was reported Sunday. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the fish kill, which resulted in dead crayfish, minnows and smallmouth bass. The Monroe County Health Department is also monitoring well water to ensure chemicals don’t show up in tests. No workers at the well site, owned by Statoil North America, were hurt.
Though officials didn’t provide the Columbus Dispatch with a list of chemicals that were present at the site of the fire, many common fracking chemicals have been found to be toxic. Last year, a study that looked at groundwater samples from fracking sites found elevated levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which have been linked to infertility, birth defects, and cancer. Another found that fracking operations in the U.S. produced 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012, fluid that often contains carcinogens and can be radioactive.
And fracking chemicals have caused fish kills before. Last year, a federal report found that a fracking fluid spill in 2007 caused the “widespread death or distress of aquatic species” in a small Appalachian creek in Kentucky. The study fond that the fish in the creek, including the federally threatened Blackside dace, suffered from gill lesions and damaged livers and spleens, symptoms that are consistent with exposure to heavy metals and acidic water.
“Our study is a precautionary tale of how entire populations could be put at risk even with small-scale fluid spills,” USGS scientist Diana Papoulias, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This is especially the case if the species is threatened or is only found in limited areas, like the Blackside dace is in the Cumberland.”
In 2009, another fish kill occurred when up to 8,000 gallons of fracking fluids spilled in Dimock, Pennsylvania, killing some fish and causing others to swim “erratically.”
In Ohio, fish kills, water contamination and fires aren’t the only things residents have to worry about. Fracking has been linked to earthquakes in the state, prompting state officials to enact new guidelines for monitoring seismic activity near drilling operations in the state. The new rules stipulate that if monitors detect an earthquake of 1.0-magnitude or greater, state regulators will suspend fracking in the area and investigate whether or not drilling played a role in the earthquake.