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Fish Kill

August 5, 2015

State settles lawsuit with mining firm over fish kill on Dunkard Creek
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has reached a tentative settlement of a lawsuit that sought damages for mine discharges that caused a massive fish kill on more than 40 miles of Dunkard Creek along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border in 2009. Details of the proposed settlement were not available Wednesday, but it will include financial payments by Murray Energy Corp. to the fish commission for damage to the aquatic life of the creek caused by discharges of polluted water from Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 mine. The lawsuit was originally filed against Consol Energy in September 2011, but Murray Energy inherited the legal action when it bought the Consolidation Coal Co. from Consol in 2013.

The salty discharges from the Consol mine spawned a bloom of toxic, golden algae, normally found in Texas and other Southwestern states, that killed more than 42,000 fish, 15,000 freshwater mussels and 6,000 of a type of large salamander called mudpuppies. Consol, the Cecil-based mining and natural gas company that owned the Blacksville No. 2 mine at the time of the fish kill, paid a total of $5.5 million in civil penalties in 2011 to settle hundreds of federal Clean Water Act violations at six mines it owned in West Virginia, including the pollution discharges that contributed to the Dunkard Creek fish kill. Consol also paid $500,000 to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources as compensation for the lost aquatic resources on the West Virginia portions of Dunkard Creek.


May 9, 2014

Pa. agency can sue Consol for fish kill

By Jonathan D. Silver
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Growth of a toxic algae killed more than 42,000 fish, 15,000 mussels and 6,000 salamanders in Greene County in 2009

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will be allowed to proceed with a seven-figure lawsuit in West Virginia against Consol Energy Inc. over a 2009 massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek, the West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled. The decision Thursday reversed a lower-court ruling in July that dismissed the case on a claim by Consol that the state agency did not have the legal standing to sue in West Virginia.

Now the case is remanded to Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr. in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County. "We're very happy that the West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with us that the West Virginia courts are in a position to hear our complaint against Consol so we can get on with the merits of the case and discuss them," John Arway, the commission's executive director, said Friday.


Sometime around September 1, 2009, there was a massive fish kill along most of Dunkard Creek. The creek criss-crosses the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border 18-times before reaching the Monongahela River, which flows north to Pittsburgh, where it joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River.

Dunkard Creek is a 38-mile creek that contained a unique ecosystem with 161 species of fish, 14 species of mussels, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects. It was one of only two or three creeks like it on the Monongahela River watershed. Some experts say it will be decades before the fishery returns to normal, if ever. Many of the fish were over 15 years old. It's believed the prized mussel population may be lost forever.

While the exact source(s) of the pollutants are still being determined, it is obvious that water high in TDS (total dissolved solids) was to blame. High TDS levels, combined with other favorable environmental conditions, created the perfect environment for a toxic golden algae bloom that helped kill an estimated 20,000 fish and other aquatic life.

One local water expert comments:
Even if the algae bloom is what ultimately killed the fish, it seems that the cause of the bloom is high chloride levels.  The high chloride levels are a clear indicator of frac water, not mine pollution (which is high in sulfates).  The agencies just refuse to say the words “Marcellus drilling” in any press article.

High TDS conditions were also enhanced by low water levels in creeks and streams. These were caused by dry weather and widespread water withdrawals from streams and creeks for fracing operations. Tanker trucks can back-up to any stream 24-7 and pump out 4,200 gallons or more at any time. Many watersheds in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have been dried-up by this continuing raid for free water, since each Marcellus well can require up to 6-million gallons of water for fracing.

In Texas, golden alga-related fish kills have occurred in inland waters with high salt or mineral content, usually west of I-35. The first confirmed case was in 1985 on the Pecos River in the Rio Grande Basin. Since then, golden alga has been responsible for multiple fish kills in five river basins.
More: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Some of these same "Residual Waste" tankers were 'moonlight dumping' wastewater into remote tributaries and opening their drain valves as they drove back roads under the cover of rain or darkness.

Consol, the former Consolidation Coal Company, and its new division CNX Gas are very active along Dunkard Creek. A local reporter included this in a recent newspaper story about Dunkard Creek:
"The only deep injection wastewater well in the area permitted by the U.S. EPA is the Morris Run injection well operated by CNX Gas Co. LLP, a subsidiary of Consol Energy, at Consol's closed Blacksville No. 1 mine in Greene County since 2005. Because of violations at that injection facility from September 2007 to March 2009, CNX was fined $157,500 for violating provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, including accepting at least 100 truckloads of wastewater with total dissolved solids levels 'significantly higher' than its federal permit allowed."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sep. 20, 2009
These wastewater fluids could have moved laterally and vertically through former wells, mines and bore holes. Some reports indicated the source of the contamination was ongoing, three weeks after the initial fish kill. Drilling wastewater contains Mother Nature's own mix of toxins from beneath the earth, in addition to the frac fluids added above ground for the fracking process.
What also remains to be explained is why it took two weeks for a full scale investigation of the Dunkard Creek fish kill to begin.


September 24, 2009 photos
of the Dunkard Creek area

At the time the photos below were taken September 24, 2009, some definitive answers were still being sought on the fish kill.


Tea-colored water following golden algae bloom
Consolidation Coal Co.
Loveridge No. 22
St. Leo AMD Facility
"The Beaver Dam"
Loveridge Mine No. 22 sign
L-108 Degas Hole
Osage, WV


Gas Drilling Waste

Centralized Impoundment Dams


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