Otters Flee Energy Production, Study Finds

May 27, 2014

Researchers at the University of Wyoming have found that energy development is scaring off river otters in the Upper Green River Basin.

Scientists counted the number of otters in several waterways throughout the Upper Green River Basin in western Wyoming. The rivers farther away from energy development had dozens of otters, but the New Fork River had only two.

Report co-author Merav Ben-David says research shows that otters don’t like the noise and commotion associated with development, and she says another concern could be water contamination.

“River otters are extremely sensitive to pollution, and that’s why we use them as an indicator species,” Ben-David said. “It’s like the canary in the coal mine: It’s an early sign that something is wrong and needs to be looked at.”

Ben-David says her team detected high levels of dissolved chemicals in the New Fork River, downstream of a wastewater treatment plant. The facility cleans wastewater from the gas field and discharges some of it into the river. They claim the discharged water exceeds drinking water standards, but Ben-David says more careful monitoring is needed.