Coal Tattoo

More on Dunkard Creek fish kill


An ecosystem has been destroyed.

Betty Wiley, Dunkard Creek Watershed Association.

This weekend, my friend Don Hopey, the great environmental reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, had the best story I’ve seen so far about the massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania line north of Morgantown.

Read it here.

I’ve blogged about this previously, as has John McCoy, the Gazette outdoors writer, in his Woods and Water blog.

But Hopey does a far more complete job of pointing out the significance of this particular stream, the size and severity of the fish kill, and the various potential sources being examined by water quality and wildlife investigators.

I mean, just read his lead:

Just 20 days ago, Dunkard Creek, which meanders lazily back and forth across the border of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, was one of the most ecologically diverse streams in both states, containing freshwater mussels, mudpuppy salamanders and a host of fish species from minnows to 3-foot-long muskies.

Generations of families picnicked along its sycamore-lined banks and swam in its warm water. Fishermen plied its green, slow-moving pools with lures and bait in hopes of catching lunker bass.

But today, the 38-mile creek is all but dead, its 161 species of fish, mussels, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects killed by mysterious pollutants coming from sources state and federal agencies have yet to pinpoint despite aggressive field work.

And here’s what he had to say about the investigation:

An early and continuing focus of the investigation has been discharges from a mine water treatment facility located at Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 mine in West Virginia.

But state and federal investigators are confounded because chemical analysis shows the creek water at the treatment facility site contains extremely high total dissolved solids, or TDS, and chlorides — properties found in wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas well drilling operations but not mine water. Total dissolved solids may include metals, salts and other elements.

Marcellus Shale well drilling water contains about 100 chemicals added to reduce friction, eliminate algae growth and perform other functions when water is pumped underground under pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas.

Up to 4 million gallons are used for each Marcellus Shale well. Disposal of wastewater from the wells has caused problems throughout Pennsylvania, including TDS readings that exceeded federal safe drinking water standards in the Monongahela River last winter and this year.

But as previously reported:

On Thursday, investigators found dead fish for the first time about a mile and a half up the creek above the treatment plant discharge.

“Our hypothesis was that it’s coming out of the Blacksville No. 2 mine, but the finding of dead fish upstream from the Blacksville discharge indicates the sole cause cannot be Blacksville,” said West Virginia DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco.

The state agencies now are looking at the possibility that someone has illegally dumped drilling wastewater into the creek to avoid the expense of complying with laws governing its disposal. The water must be treated in Pennsylvania or injected deep underground in West Virginia.

You can learn more about Dunkard Creek from the area Watershed Association here  or from this site.