Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cause of huge fish kill in W.Va. and Pa. unknown; gas-drilling chemicals, coal mine are suspected

UPDATE, Sept. 28: Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette has a comprehensive look at the sitiation. UPDATE, Sept. 24: West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman blames the fish kill on an algae bloom, set up by temperature, sunlight and drainage from the mine mentioned below. Also, "One possible culprit is a new borehole on the Pennsylvania side that’s injecting polluted water into the mine void," Erica Peterson and Scott Finn report for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Dunkard Creek, a 38-mile stream that forms in Monongalia County, West Virginia and flows into the Monongahela River in Greene County, Pennsylvania, may be home to the largest fish kill in West Virginia more than two decades, and no one seems to know what caused it. The creek has seen "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," Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

"We've just been decimated down here. Everything is being killed almost from the headwaters of the creek to where it flows into the Monongahela River," Betty Wiley, president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, told Hopey. Environmental agencies are treating the creek as a crime scene. Initial speculation as to the cause of the pollution centered on Consol Energy's Blacksville No. 2 mine, but dead fish have been found recently upstream from the mine and chemical analysis of the water reveals chemicals used in drilling deep natural-gas wells into the Marcellus Shale. State agencies are investigating the possibility that someone is illegally dumping drilling water into the creek, Hopey reports, adding the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection doesn't allow water- or sewage-treatment facilities in the state to accept or discharge Marcellus wastewater.

Regardless of the cause, the devastation along the creek in undeniable. Hopey quotes Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy's Water Research Institute at West Virginia University: "This is the worst fish kill I've experienced in 21 years in West Virginia." (Read more)

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