WAYNESBURG – Greene County Conservation District approved a resolution Tuesday supporting efforts to identify the cause of the Dunkard Creek fish kill and urging re-establishment of the creek as a warm water fishery.
The board also agreed to ask state and federal agencies responsible for enforcing environmental regulations and investigating the kill to attend a public meeting to discuss the situation.
State and federal agencies involved in the investigation have not been able to determine what caused thousands of fish and other aquatic life to die in the creek during the last three weeks.
The board wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again, said Robbie Matesic, county director of development.
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“They were alarmed by the fact we don’t know about activities taking place in the Dunkard Creek watershed that the federal and state agencies do know about,” she said.
One issue discussed by the board was the permit issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 to CNX Gas to operate an injection well at the former Blacksville No. 1 Morris Run Mine Shaft for brine from the company’s coal bed methane wells.
EPA issued an administrative order last month assessing the company a $157,500 penalty for failing to adequately staff and secure the well site, monitor the well’s cumulative volume and report permit non-compliance.
EPA found that between September 2007 and March 2009 at least 100 truckloads of materials were discharged at the site with levels of total dissolved solids “significantly higher” than levels included in the permit application.
Though the well is not being blamed for the fish kill, local officials were unaware of its existence. “We can find no evidence we received any notice of this permit, the violation or the consent order,” Matesic told the board.
Martin Niverth, also with the county department of development, called the EPA consent order “vanilla,” saying it requires the company to do only what it should have been doing from the beginning.
“We must take ownership of our resources,” Niverth said later. This will involve putting in place methods to be aware of such developments and to comment on them before they become reality.
Matesic said the county estimates the economic value of the 38 miles of lost stream, using Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission restoration guidelines, is more than $30 million.
The resolution approved by the board cites efforts by the county and the conservation district to address water quality issues in the watershed.
They include spending $460,000 for the development of sewage plans and line extensions, participating in a study to explore the treatment of acid mine discharge sources and cleaning up illegal garbage dumps.
County and the conservation district have worked to take care of problems they are aware of in the watershed, Niverth said. “We’ve worked our butts off and spent money only to have this slap us in the face,” he said.
The resolution notes exploitation of Marcellus shale gas has caused a significant demand on local water resources and water treatment capacity “that responsible permitting, monitoring and enforcement agencies were unprepared to accommodate.”
The resolution further states that any extractive industry should bear the responsibility, regardless of costs, for the full protection and restoration of natural resources after extraction is completed.
DEP: Aquatic disaster ‘different from any’ in recent years
A chief environmental enforcement official said Tuesday the massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek is “different from any that we’ve had in recent memory.” Michael Zeto of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection Agency said what makes this fish kill so different is there may be more than one source causing the aquatic disaster. “Typically, there is a chemical or physical characteristic that points to a single source. Then, we deal with who is responsible from there. However, this fish kill may have several possibilities that could be contributing to the cause,” Zeto said. West Virginia DEP is investigating the fish kill jointly with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and West Virginia University. “We understand the frustration people are feeling, because we feel it, too,” said Scott Mandirola, director of the West Virginia DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management. “That’s why we have a large number of people working on this and are working with other agencies to try to determine what could be causing it,” he said. Because of heavy mining activity in the area, the industry was an early suspect. In fact, after conferring with West Virginia DEP, Consol Energy, which operates an active mine in Blacksville, W.Va., agreed to shut off its discharge into Dunkard Creek at its Blacksville No. 2 site. However, at the same time Consol was shutting off its pumps, dead fish were found upstream from its outlet, indicating that the outlet at that site is not the sole cause for the dead fish. In addition, inspectors checked mine pools from previous mining activity that are often sources of acid mine drainage. However, the water levels in the area are hundreds of feet below stream elevation at this time because the area has not received much rain in recent weeks. The agencies also have received reports from area residents suspecting tanker trucks of dumping waste water from oil and gas drilling activities into Dunkard Creek. Various agencies continue to investigate those reports. “We have found that those trucks that have been reported are withdrawing water from the stream, rather than dumping waste water,” Zeto said. On Friday, staff members from West Virginia DEP flew over the area in a helicopter to see if there was anything they could see from the air. The staff noted the stream was clouded with a rust color from the Pennsylvania line upstream to a beaver dam in the South Fork of the West Virginia Fork of Dunkard. As a result, additional staff was brought in to take samples along the 25-mile stretch. Investigators also have solicited the assistance of micro-biologists to help determine whether some form of algae or similar growth may be a contributing factor.
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