Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More to PA-WV Fish Kill Than Originally Reported

In September, a large fish kill in Dunkard Creek, along the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border, set off alarm bells across the Appalachian region when it was originally reported that the fish kill was the result of a spill of drilling fluids at a natural gas well.  The reporting of the spill and kill created a uproar among environmentalists, land owners and many others about the safety of gas drilling and especially hydraulic fracturing.  Because the event occurred in the highly populated Northeast, it was widely reported, which led to a huge uproar that the natural gas industry has been fighting for the past two months.

Now I read a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article from last month that the cause of the fish kill is more complex than originally reported and likely not the result of a spill at a gas well.  While officials might never know the cause of the kill, many believe that golden algae, a warm water algae that is not native to the area, is to blame.  If this is the case, the culprit may indeed be the natural gas industry, as the algae may have been attached to drilling equipment from Texas, where the algae is known to occur.  This, however, is just one theory being considered.  There is also evidence that local coal producer Consol Energy has been discharging treated mine water with extremely high levels of dissolved solids and chloride into the creek. 

Whatever the case, water in the Dunkard Creek has been deteriorating since 2002, partially caused by coal mine water treatment facility discharges from two Consol mines in the area.  I hate to be paranoid, but I'm sure the coal industry is happy to help point the finger at natural gas when the coal industry has not been the best steward of the land.  It doesn't help that state environmental enforcement agencies, especially in West Virginia, has been lenient with the coal industry.

The truth of the Dunkard Creek fish kill may never be known, but the damage is done.  Natural gas has been branded the culprit and has been fighting an unending battle against people who are genuinely scared for the health of the environment. 

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