Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Raft Creek pollution by gas-driller's waste kills fish in Wildlife Management Area
Dead fish spur state to ban site from taking driller wastewater
BY L. LAMOR WILLIAMS
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Gas-drilling waste kills fish in Raft Creek
A second facility used to store and dispose of discarded water used by natural gas drillers can no longer accept the wastewater, the director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday.
A property owner reported seeing dead fish on his property near the Griffithville disposal site operated by Searcy-based Central Arkansas Disposal, said Teresa Marks, director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
After investigating, the department issued an emergency order Friday after an inspection found a "large unlined, unpermitted waste treatment reservoir," being filled through an underground pipe from the licensed facility, the emergency order states.
On Dec. 3, the department closed a wastewater storage and disposal facility near Carlisle for improperly applying the water onto farmland.
Marks imposed a moratorium on new permits for drill fluid storage facilities until a study is completed examining the effects the operations have on soils and waterways. She said Central Arkansas Disposal was already scheduled for sampling.
The director said the complaint coincided with the ongoing study.
"We did have some sampling that was part of the scientific study, but also had a complaint about a reservoir that a citizen was concerned about," she said. "We went out to test as a result of the complaint and determined that it had high a level of chlorides."
The manager of Central Arkansas Disposal, Ron Carl, was traveling out-of-state Tuesday and was unavailable for comment, according to a man who answered the phone at the company's office in Searcy.
The unpermitted reservoir was emptying into Raft Creek, the emergency order says and an employee from Central Arkansas Disposal "stated that the fluid within the reservoir was from the Central Arkansas Disposal facility. The employee did not know if the fluid reached the reservoir by pumping or gravity flow."
A water sample also found high chloride levels in the stream. The creek feeds the Steve Wilson/Raft Creek Wildlife Management Area in White County.
Mike Armstrong, chief of fisheries for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said because the fish found on the landowners property had been dead for at least a week or more, it was hard to determine the magnitude of the fish kill in the creek.
"We did delineate that between a one-mile and two-mile stretch of the creek was affected," Armstrong said. "We found several largemouth bass up to 4 pounds and quality sized crappie so there was a robust fish population in those ditches."
Armstrong said the commission would study data on similar habitats to make an estimation of how many fish should be in the area.
"I would suspect that kill would be in the thousands with dead bass in the 2- to 4-pound range," he said.
Land farms consist of at least two large plastic-lined ponds that hold drilling fluid - which is mainly water and rock sediment discarded during drilling. After obtaining a permit from the department, land farm owners are allowed to irrigate crops with the fluid, after sending samples to the department.
The fluid is generated by companies drilling for natural gas in the Fayetteville Shale, a geologic formation that stretches from north-central Arkansas to the Mississippi River. The formation is expected to have a $22 billion impact on the Arkansas economy by 2012, according to a University of Arkansas study.
Marks said she is unaware of any drinking water in the area that could be affected, but that the company now faces a penalty of up to $10,000 per day of being in violation of its permit.
She said the emergency order simply calls for the company to cease operation, but enforcement action will follow.
"We have a matrix at the water department and we can plug in such information as whether or not harm was done to the environment; whether or not it was an intentional act and whether or not the company has a history of violations, things like that."
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