PA Dems Blame Marcellus Drilling for Smallmouth Bass Problem

Since 2005, smallmouth bass along a 100-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania have been hit with “outbreaks” of bacterial infections. Because of it, the PA Fish and Boat Commission wants the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to designate that part of the river as “impaired” which would free up money to conduct additional tests.

The DEP says there’s not enough evidence to put the river on the impaired list, yet. But what’s really happening is that a scientific issue is quickly becoming a political football. An all-too-familiar pattern is repeating itself with the smallmouth bass issue. Democrats, like Congressman Camille “Bud” George, want to blame it on Marcellus Shale drilling in the region, without any evidence.

The [Fish and Boat] commission has found no link with the health problems facing the smallmouth bass and Marcellus Shale drilling in the Susquehanna Basin, said commission spokesman Eric Levis.

But a House Democratic lawmaker is not shying away from drawing a connection.

Drilling activity contributes to the fragmentation of forest tracts, said Rep. Camille George, D-Houtzdale, ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

"Given the fact that the majority of Marcellus development is taking place within the Susquehanna River Basin, it’s not outlandish to believe the cumulative impacts to headwater and larger downstream waterways pose a risk of degradation," he said.

DEP officials said scientists from several agencies have been studying the lesions and sores found on smallmouth bass since 2007.

"The disease problems may be indicative of some stressor to the fish," wrote DEP Secretary Mike Krancer. "However, the disease is yet to be tied to any particular identifiable stressors. At this time the facts and science do not support placing the river on the (list)."

Krancer said studies of the smallmouth bass problem will continue regardless of whether the river is on the impaired list.*

*Wilkes-Barre (PA) The Citizens’ Voice (May 29, 2012) – Susquehanna River water quality status debated