Claim: Photograph shows a cancerous deer killed near a fracking area in Pennsylvania.
REAL PHOTOGRAPH; INACCURATE DESCRIPTION
Example:[Collected via e-mail, January 2012]
A friend "shared" this photo on Facebook. It was accompanied by the following text:
Cancerous deer shot in Dimock PA. Lived near a stream where fracturing water had been said to be leaking. Is fracking really "safe" for us? EPA's testing of water in Dimock found several carcinogenic and neurotoxic drilling chemicals such as arsenic, barium, ethylene glycol and manganese.
Origins: The northeastern Pennsylvania village of Dimock Township was in the news in January 2012 as an area of controversy over how much environmental impact the process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for extracting natural gas may be having on the local water supply:
Dimock, in a busy drilling area above the gas-rich Marcellus shale deposit, has become the center of a national debate over the natural gas extraction technique called fracking, which involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into shale rock deep below the ground.
Fracking has unlocked decades of U.S. natural gas supply, but environmentalists say it contaminates water supplies. Energy companies have said fracking, which is being done across the country, poses no threat to drinking water.
Cabot [Oil & Gas] Corpspokesman George Stark said the company has tested and sampled water from more than 2,000 wells in the area over the past several years and does not have data showing drilling is the cause of "alleged health concerns purported by the EPA."
Dimock residents began complaining of cloudy, foul-smelling water in 2008 after Cabot began fracking nearby.
This controversy prompted the circulation of the photograph displayed above, which supposedly ties the fracking activities in Dimock to the discovery of a "cancerous" deer in that area. However, the image has nothing to do with Dimock or fracking; it's an example of cutaneous fibromas (warts) that occur among white-tailed deer, a phenomenon caused by a virus.
A deer hunter never expects to see giant warts or tumor-like growths on a white-tailed deer, but they do occur. Over the years I've seen many of photos of both live and harvested deer with "tumors," although I've never seen one while in the field. The technical term for these growths is cutaneous fibroma and it's caused by a virus. From a deer management perspective, there is not much you can do to keep wild deer from getting fibroma.
Cutaneous fibromas (warts) are caused by a naturally occurring virus of the deer's skin. The virus that causes these unsightly warts in deer is believed to be transmitted through biting insects and/or direct contact with damaged skin. Once the virus enters the skin, warts begin to form. As the warts increase in size, the skin surrounding them is typically hairless and grayish in color. The number of warts on an infected animal can vary from one to several hundred, they can sometimes clump, and can in some cases end up covering much of the deer's body.
The take home message today is that warts occur naturally in white-tailed deer populations. Fibromasts can occur on any deer, healthy or otherwise. With that said, they occur rather rarely and there is nothing that can be done from a deer management standpoint. Deer are the only host for the virus, so fear not for yourself should you find yourself standing over an infected animal.