Shaky Ground: The Missing Link in the Arkansas Bird Kill

Red-winged_blackbirdBy Jill Henderson

For a couple of days now I’ve been glued to the horrifying stories of thousands of birds raining down from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas and the massive fish kill in the Arkansas River.  And while these two mysterious events occurred within 24 hours of each other and were located a mere 125 miles apart, government agencies and mainstream media continue to insist that there is no link between them.  But the missing link to this mystery might lie right beneath our noses…

So what do we know about these two incidents so far?

We know that roughly 4,000 birds, mostly red-winged blackbirds, starlings and grackles, fell from the sky around midnight on December 31st in Beebe, Arkansas.  The birds fell randomly in a one to one and a half mile area.  Most of the birds appeared dead when they hit the ground.

The state veterinarian for the State of Arkansas reported that of the handful of dead birds they have studied, all had internal injuries.  These injuries have also been classified as blunt force trauma expressed by blood clots and contusions to the breast as if they all hit something.  No sign of chronic or infectious disease has been found in the sample birds.

Public theories range from biblical Armageddon, to secret government weapons testing to alien spacecraft.  Those theories aren’t much weirder than the official speculations, including:

1. Fireworks: loud noises startled the birds into the air where they either died of instantaneous shock or crashed into each other so hard they died.  This might be plausible if a dozen M-80’s were set off in a tree where the birds were roosting, but even one of these explosives would make an unforgettable noise in a residential area.

2. High altitude hail:  for some unknown reason 4,000 birds were flying at high altitude, at night, and were struck in the breast from below by a freak hail storm.

3. Lightning: in this scenario a single bolt of lightning struck 4,000 birds flying around at night in a one mile wide area and they all fell dead to the ground incurring trauma to the breast.

One kudos to the hail/lightning theory is that there was, indeed bad weather in the area earlier in the evening, but the weather service reports that by midnight the system had moved well to the east of Beebe, leaving their weather theories a little soggy.

Let’s turn to the 100,000 fish found dead along a 20 mile stretch the Arkansas River near the town of Ozark.   As in the Beebe kill, his one involved primarily one species of drum fish.  Ozark is less than 125 miles west of Beebe.  Some environmental tests were done to rule out water-born toxins and toxicology reports wont be complete until next month.

The official line on this event is that the fish had contracted a disease.  Are we to believe that a devastating disease such as this struck 100,000 fish all at once in a relatively small area of a very, very large river?

As it stands, authorities deny any connection between two massive species kills located less than 125 miles and one day apart.  Either they are incredibly dull and unimaginative, or they’re lying.

When I  first heard the report about these bizarre species kills, the first words that came to my mind were fracking earthquakes.

You may recall a recent story about a group of people in Arkansas who had turned on their taps one day to find that their private wells had been inundated with methane gas.  As we watched the evening news, one homeowner literally lit the water coming out of his bathroom faucet on fire.

The claims were that natural gas had migrated through fractures in the limestone bedrock, which makes up the karst topography of the Ozark region.  (Learn more about this natural geologic feature here).  Normally, naturally gas is trapped within the rocks and released in small amounts naturally over thousands of years.

But according to reports, the recent methane intrusions had been triggered by a controversial method of natural gas drilling called fracking.  Fracking involves drilling deep holes into the underlying rock into which heavy explosives are dropped.  The explosion fractures the rock, releasing natural gas which is then collected and processed.  And it seems as though drilling for natural gas has put an entire region on shaky ground.

Pan to the town of Guy, Arkansas, where over 500 natural gas drilling operate within a 500 mile radius.  And not only are they fract-drilling for natural gas, they are also pumping toxic wastes from drilling operations into the earth using high-pressure techniques.  The results of all this violent tampering with an already geologically unstable region has been an earthquake swarm consisting of over 500 tremors and counting just since September ‘10.

Arkansas map
Google Maps 2010 – View large Arkansas Bird and Fish Kill map.

This map shows Guy, AR located by the red push-pin, with Beebe and Ozark to the east and west, less than 125 miles apart.  With natural gas wells being drilled within a 500 mile radius around Guy, it’s obvious how fracking and drilling-waste disposal could impact both locations.

Imagine a fresh-water spring in the Ozarks gushing out of a cavernous system in the earth.  Now imagine that the water is natural gas and you understand the plausibility of the missing link in the recent species kills.

I will offer my theory that this is what’s happened in central Arkansas.  Methane and other gases associated with it are seeping out of the earth into the air and the water.   And in Beebe and Ozark, the gas rushed out in a large emission, killed the fish and the birds in a very localized area, and was quickly diluted by the surrounding fresh air and water.

It’s worth considering my theory because these events, while not exactly in the Ozarks, are close enough to sir up trouble right here at home.  And don’t doubt for a moment that Exxon Mobil or any number of natural gas companies aren’t searching for gas right here in our neck of the woods.

Jill Mugshot 2 Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz.
Her books, A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country and The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs are available in our bookstore.

…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from

18 responses to “Shaky Ground: The Missing Link in the Arkansas Bird Kill

  1. I had the same theory as you. I googled “natural gas drilling and dead birds” and found your article that way. Seen the movie, Gasland? If not, I recommend it.

    Your theory makes much more sense than fireworks or bad weather. But since natural gas drilling is a big money maker and only polluting us rural folk, I suspect this theory will not get mainstream play.

    • Thanks. It’s the big elephant in the room. Everyone in these parts knows about the earthquakes and the methane intrusions, yet not a peep about it. I’ve not seen the movie, but I will hunt it down.

  2. The movie is out on DVD now. I just watched it a few weeks ago. It’s terrifying but word needs to spread.

    I live in NY state, we’re on top of Marcellus shale….loads of natural gas. I’ve just become aware of natural gas drilling and fracking in the last year or so. All the people living in these regions need to communicate with each other and spread the word on the environmental impact of natural gas drilling.

    And your link “natural geologic feature” doesn’t lead to an article.

    Thanks for your research! Please post any additional info you come up with. And post this article all over!

  3. Thanks, for your comments and pointing out the broken link – I’ll get that up now. I posted my theory on several mass media news sites, but who knows if they’ll look into it. Even if this isn’t the cause of the bird/fish kill, it’s a serious issue that should not be overlooked due to known environmental impacts.

    A December 13, 2010 article from CNN states:

    “According to the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, there are at least a half dozen “disposal wells” within a 500-square-mile zone around Guy. Licensed by the state of Arkansas, disposal wells are a byproduct of the oil and gas industry and are used to inject drilling waste water back into the earth after drilling.

    Ausbrooks said drillers inject waste water into the earth at high pressure, and in the area around the town the disposal wells go as deep as 12,000 feet. He points to incidents in Colorado in the 1960s at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where deep water injection was tied to earthquakes.”

    Obviously, officials already know that the quakes and resulting methane gas releases are connected to these practices.

  4. Jenny Underwood

    Good Article Jill. What you say makes sense. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that the 2 species (fish and birds) died at the same time. We all got a wake up call over the Gulf Spill and the environmental, health and economic damage.

    • Thanks, Jenny. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but at least I gave it some original thought and addressed an already dangerous situation! As Ozarkers, we should be doubly concerned as it took place right on our front door!

  5. Jill,
    The proper term is “fracking”- the swear word substitute in several science fiction movies. Sorry to be such an English. We might search the news and internet for where this is happening elsewhere on the planet and what man-made activities are occurring in those areas as well. I will try to put you in touch with some folks in NY State who are trying to fight this disgusting practice. It involves some 111 chemicals forced into our rock strata to “fracture” or “frack” the rock to release the gas. Whole water tables are being poisoned and people are being sickened. We ought to be all viewing “Gasland”. With fracking a threat to our water and air and Biomass /electrical generating scams ruining air land and water, what will we be left with??? Clean water and clean air do NOT belong to any government or corporation. They are essential inheritances for all living things on earth. They are part of “the Commons” recognized in Roman and English law and perverted by the insanity we call the “free” market.

    • Right you are, Tom, it’s fracking. I was writing fast and furious to get this piece done because it is so important to so many. And as you point out this isn’t the only instance…the birds in LA (my home state and one of the largest producers, shippers and refiners of oil and gas in the US!) were said to have hit a power line… c’mon man – they really need to be original!

  6. John W. Williams

    Note the following article, about Louisiana, in USA Today. See link.

    • Hey John – I just read that article. The birds there were thought to have hit a power line and showed diffent signs of trauma, but as I mentioned to Tom, LA is a major player in the oil and gas industry as well – pipelines, wells, refining, storage and shipping facilities everywhere. I did read one other interesting, but unverified theory that it was an accidental chemical spill from a military aircraft carrying phosgene (not sure about the spelling), but no credible evidence for that.

  7. Nice article, Jill. The devasting health and environmental impacts of fracking have been kept very quiet — including the restrictions (oil and gas exemption) that prevents EPA and other agencies from seriously investigating and restricting this practice. Like Roberto, I have seen “gasland” and it documents a handful of cases — out of the thousands — where aquifers and private wells have become tainted with methane and a range of extremely dangerous chemicals that seep through the bedrock cracks that result from this practice. Thank you for bringing more attention to this serious issue!

    As for the bird and fish kills, I was immediately reminded of the incidents that resulted from aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides in the late 50s and early 60s — when birds and small mammals were found dead in droves shortly after “the perfectly safe” chemicals had been sprayed on nearby highway medians and fields. The isolation of the impact to certain species makes this case distinctive. However, some species are more sensitive than others and an isolated toxic exposure could “tip the balance” for a flock or school that is already stressed. Such toxic overload may be linked to neurological disorders like “whirling disease”, where native trout become disoriented and swim in circles as a result of habitat corruption.

    If birds became disoriented or suffocated by a gas release, this could cause them to crash into one another or various other objects. Fish could also suffocate if oxygen were displaced by another gas in their habitat — and they would be very vulnerable to a toxic chemical released into the water from a pipe of fracture near key habitat.

  8. Exactly. I agree with your observation and believe that the already stressed birds (very cold temps and bad weather only hours before the incident) combined with displacing of oxygen in the immediate environment and the toxicity of the gas(es) were the lethal combination. I’m wondering if the internal hemmoraging might actually be a combination of impact with the ground AND the bursting of blood vessels within the body as the blood was both toxified and depleted of oxygen simultaneously?

    And even if I’m wrong about all of this – what they are doing in central AR must be stopped at all costs.

  9. I came across this article about earthquakes and gas drilling in Ark.

  10. There is a video on youtube that talks about methane gas, fracking and potential earthquakes.

    • Thanks, Craig. I look forward to watching that. Both the government and industry leaders have known about fracking earthquakes for a very long time. When the natural gas companies began to frack in Britain, the government there said something [like] minor earthquakes were of no concern when it came to fracking and that people would just get used to it!

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