In a statement released immediately after the Dunkard Creek fish-kill, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that the fish-kill was caused by discharge containing a high amount of total dissolved solids, or TDS, which allowed the fish-killing “golden-algae” to bloom. What the EPA failed to explain is where the discharge came from.
Both coal mining and fracking operations are found in close proximity to Dunkard Creek as it meanders through the West Virginia and Pennsylvania border. Ultimately the EPA placed blame on one of these coal mining operations, Blacksville No. 2 owned by Consol Energy Inc. However, lead EPA biologist Lou Reynolds has questioned whether it was coal mining or improper disposal of discharge from a controversial method of natural-gas mining: fracking.
While scientists are slowly learning about the after effects of fracking discharge, coal mines have been draining into Dunkard Creek for years without causing a fish-kill. It was this anomaly that led Reynolds to question the source of the drainage. Although the discharge could have come from the coal mining companies digging deeper into the earth, according to Reynolds it could also have been a result of the mining companies combining coal mining waste and natural gas waste.
Further evidence has emerged which challenges the EPA’s blame on coal mining. Early readings of the water showed high amounts of gas-associated TDS. Also, in March, authorities arrested a waste hauler for improper disposal of fracking discharge. Allan Shipman is accused of dumping the dischage in tributaries of Dunkard Creek. Currently, allegations against Shipman only allege illegal dumping downstream from the fish-kill.
Because the official blame rests on Consol, they have agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the EPA, even though they have made no admission of liability.