Is the Morris Run Injection Wastewater Well at Fault for Dunkard Creek Fish Kill?

It’s still being determined exactly what caused the fish kill at Dunkard Creek, PA/WV but there seem to be all sorts of possibilities! One of these includes the waste water from a Morris Run injection well operated by CNX Gas Co. LLP, a subsidiary of Consol Energy.
Golden algae to blame for Dunkard Creek fish kill
Friday, September 25, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A bloom of toxic alien algae is being blamed for killing thousands of fish, mussels and other forms of aquatic life in more than 30 miles of Dunkard Creek along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border this month.

Randy Huffman, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection secretary, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting yesterday that low, warm creek flows and high levels of chlorides and dissolved solids combined to produce an environment conducive to the growth of golden algae, a species of algae usually found in southern and southwestern states.

The West Virginia DEP refused to confirm Mr. Huffman’s diagnosis yesterday but a spokeswoman said it would issue a news release about the Dunkard Creek fish kill this morning.

Tom Hoffman, a spokesman for Consol Energy which has mines in the area, confirmed that the company’s scientists believe the golden algae, also known as golden-brown algae, was a cause of the fish kill.

“It’s difficult to say what was the cause in this situation, but we believe it’s related to the algae bloom. We still don’t know why the algae was there or what caused the bloom to occur,” Mr. Hoffman said.

The golden algae is one of a large group of algae known as chrysophytes that are usually found in hotter and desert environments and can produce toxins that are lethal to fish and other aquatic life.

Mr. Huffman said the dissolved solid and chloride levels were high because of discharges from a mine treatment facility at Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 deep mine and a second treatment facility at Consol’s Loveridge deep mine near the West Virginia town of St. Leo.

Another contributing cause, Mr. Huffman said, could be what he described as a discharge from a new borehole into which an unspecified company is injecting drilling wastewater into a mine void.

But the only deep injection wastewater well in the area permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 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. Consol uses the well to dispose of wastewater from its methane well drilling operations.

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.

David Sternberg, an EPA spokesman, said the federal order has not been finalized but could require a modification of the injection well’s permit. A public hearing will be held before the order is finalized but it has not been scheduled.

Whether the Morris injection well is contributing to the bad water in Dunkard Creek hasn’t been determined by state or federal agencies. There is a coal barrier between the Blacksville No. 1 and No. 2 mines that should prevent seepage of water from one to the other.

Mr. Hoffman said there’s no indication that any such seepage is occurring or that the Morris injection operation is to blame, and the violations at the Morris mine shaft have long since been corrected. He said identification of the algae is a “breakthrough” in determining the cause of the kill.

“A lot of people assumed it was something coming out of one of our pipes that caused this event,” Mr. Hoffman said. “But this is something different.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental, watershed and sportsmen’s organizations, the Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water, is calling on the EPA to stop all gas well drilling discharges into Dunkard Creek and require Marcellus shale gas drilling operations to document where they are disposing of all wastewater.

Each well drilled into the Marcellus shale, a 5,000- to 8,000-foot-deep rock formation underlying much of Pennsylvania and the northern Appalachians, uses between 1 million and 4 million gallons of pressurized water to fracture the rock and release the gas it contains. One-third to one-half of that water, which contains lubricating chemicals and contaminants picked up underground, is pushed back to the surface by the gas and must be disposed of by the drilling companies.

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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