Coal Tattoo

Mon County fish kill: Could coal be the culprit?

Last week, my buddy John McCoy wrote on his Gazette Woods and Waters blog about the big fish kill on Dunkard Creek in Monongalia County, W.Va.. At the time, WVDEP officials didn’t mention coal-mining as a potential culprit … and John commented:

The area around Dunkard Creek is honeycombed with coal mines, and all of those mines are in high-sulfur coal seams. Eyewitnesses to the Dunkard fish kill report seeing bright orange deposits on the stream bottom. That’s consistent with “yellowboy,” an iron sulfate deposited during mine-acid discharges.

Now, the Dominion Post in Morgantown (Subscription required)  is quoting WVDEP officials as saying the problem could be coming from CONSOL Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 Mine, a longwall operation that recently resumed production.

Here’s a pickup The Associated Press put out based on the Dominion Post story:

Investigators say whatever is killing fish in Dunkard Creek could be coming from Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 mine.

The Department of Environmental Protection is awaiting test results to prove its theory, and spokeswoman Kathy Cosco says the Pittsburgh-based coal company is also investigating.

Longwall production resumed recently after a two-month shutdown.

Consol spokesman Tom Hoffman says he can’t say what, if anything, needs to be changed until tests reveal what has caused hundreds of fish to die.

They have washed up on a 20-mile stretch of the creek’s banks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania since Sept. 3.

The state is testing the water for a variety of metals and chemicals. It’s also taking organ, tissue and blood samples from dead fish.

WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh also had a story on this.

UPDATED, Friday, Sept. 18:

Kathy Cosco from the WVDEP gave me a bit of an update  on this — They’ve found some fish killed upstream from this particular CONSOL outlet, apparently. But, as some readers have suggested, CONSOL was also apparently disposing of brine from some coalbed methane operations into abandoned mines in this area, and WVDEP is investigating that as a possible cause or contributor to the problem.

Also, one reader mentioned the Pennsylvania DEP’s news release on this, so here’s the link to that and the text of the release:

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC)
announced today that officials are working with West Virginia Department of
Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to
address a fish kill in Dunkard Creek, first detected in West Virginia on Sept.
1 and reported to DEP on Sept. 8.

More than 30 stream miles in Pennsylvania and West Virginia have been impacted
by a discharge, which is originating from West Virginia and contains high
levels of total dissolved solids (TDS). At least 16 species of freshwater
mussels and at least 18 species of fish were killed by this pollution event in
Dunkard Creek.

The main stem of Dunkard Creek, located in Pennsylvania, is designated as a
warm water fishery.
DEP is collecting water quality data which will track the progress of the
pollutant and its impact on Dunkard Creek, while the PFBC has established
multiple sampling stations to conduct biological assessments that include
counts of dead aquatic life and the condition of living fish in the stream.

"The damage done to Dunkard Creek is substantial and tragic. DEP will continue
to monitor water quality so that when the responsible party is determined by
West Virginia and EPA, we are positioned to take appropriate enforcement
action," said Acting Southwest DEP Regional Director Ronald Schwartz. "We
appreciate the continued cooperation and efforts by West Virginia and EPA

 "Our staff has documented numerous species of gamefish killed by the
pollution event, including muskellunge, smallmouth bass, and flathead catfish,
and various species of redhorses, minnows, darters, freshwater mussels, and
mudpuppies -- also known as aquatic salamanders," said PFBC Southwest Regional
Law Enforcement Manager Emil Svetahor. "We are working closely with DEP and
other partners to conduct the ongoing investigation."

The West Virginia and Pennsylvania forks of Dunkard Creek merge in Shamrock,
Pennsylvania, to form Dunkard Creek, which meanders nearly 38 miles along the
southwest border of the commonwealth and West Virginia, before its confluence
with the Monongahela River just downstream of Point Marion.