M-U Gathering Pipelines Blamed for Killing “Ancient” Salamanders

The Eastern hellbender is the largest salamander in North America, reaching lengths of up to 24 inches. It’s also the official amphibian of Pennsylvania. Photo: Dave Herasimtschuk / Freshwaters Illustrated

(Sigh.) Here we go again. An in-depth news story appearing on the PBS website Allegheny Front theorizes that the presence of natural gas gathering pipelines–run to individual shale wells–are causing a decrease in the population of hellbenders. The theory is that as more and more pipelines are installed under creeks and streams throughout the region (in western PA and easter OH), the construction process muddies the streams and kills aquatic life, including the hellbender. The hellbender is a giant salamander–growing to an average of 15 inches long. Ugly suckers–so ugly they’re cute! OK, so a pipeline gets installed and the water is muddy for a day or two and maybe it kills a hellbender or two, what’s the big deal? Are they an endangered species? No, they are not. They are, however, considered to be “near-threatened”–meaning any decade now they *may* get added to the “threatened” list (but still not endangered). The idea is, of course, to avoid killing enough of a species like the hellbender so that it ends up on a threatened or endangered list. So are pipelines having a negative impact on hellbender populations? The article wants you think so, but actually, there’s zero evidence of any kind of impact by pipelines on hellbender populations. Instead of scientific steak to show a connection between pipelines and hellbender populations, the article serves up anecdotal Cheetos of scary pictures of pipelines being installed. There is no connection between pipeline construction and hellbender populations–that’s the bottom line when you read the following story…

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