RIVERDALE Oil exploration and drilling continues at a record pace across much of western North Dakota. Some wells near the banks of Lake Sakakawea are already drawing oil from beneath the lake. Indications are that activity will increase.
In order to find the most likely spots where oil exists beneath the surface of Lake Sakakawea, oil companies will likely conduct exploration on the water that would include the use of powerful seismic cannons. The effect those shock waves could have on fish is not completely known. Next spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to find some answers.
"What we want to know is what impact it will have on the fish in the lake, so we've pulled aside some pallid sturgeon from 2010 that were surplus to our needs. We've also kept back about 300 paddlefish," said Rob Holm, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery project director. "We'll be looking at collecting walleye next spring and maybe rainbow trout and fathead minnows to test in this study."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Rob Holm, project director, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, observes paddlefish in a holding tank at the hatchery.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - These young paddlefish might be among those destined to help gain knowledge about the possible effects of oil exploration activity on Lake Sakakawea.
The fish would be held in netted enclosures and used as a control group for the study. Of particular interest is what effect seismic air cannons will have on the swim bladders of various fish. Some previous research has found the effect to be fatal.
"In fact, they've used that technique on Yellowstone Lake in removing Lake Trout, a non-native fish, from that lake," Holm said.
"It seems to be fairly effective," he added. "Will this sonic wave have an impact on our pallid (sturgeons) out there? We know they are up in the water column. They're endangered and we don't want them harmed. We have a trophy and recreational walleye fishery too. We want to see what the impact is on them as well."