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Toxic Wastewater Dumped in Streets and Rivers at Night: Gas Profiteers Getting Away With Shocking Environmental Crimes

Allan Shipman was found guilty of illegally dumping millions of gallons of natural gas drilling wastewater. But he's part of a much bigger problem.

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Craig says there was no cleanup. “Mother Nature took care of that.” Raccoons and green heron and a host of other animals did what they do. They ate as much as they could. The creek eventually washed the rest of the dead away. Then one night Craig says the water rose 10 inches in the creek. There was no rain. A helpful discharge from the mineshaft to rid the truth away. Craig’s not sure, but he thinks so.  

When asked about Robert Allan Shipman’s probation, Craig says, “It’s a slap in the face to everyone that lives around Dunkard.” Adds Dave Headley from nearby Smithfield, “It’s ridiculous that all he got was a slap on the wrist.”

Craig has nothing against mining or drilling. His dad was a miner at Blacksville #2, and says there was small kill in his father’s day too. But he just doesn’t understand the lack of concern for the water. Craig and his buddies joined the Izaak Walton league shortly after the fish kill. They began testing Dunkard Creek and recording the data last August and have continued to do so on a weekly basis, usually on Sundays. 

Today there’s some people out fishing. But it’s not the same.

The fish kill affected nearly 30 miles of Dunkard Creek. Salamanders, freshwater mussels and almost every other creature living in the creek were dead. In all, according to Sharon Hall, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 42,997 fish, 15,382 freshwater mussels and 6,447 mudpuppies (a type of salamander) were killed.

After three years of research, the cause of the Dunkard Creek fish kill has rested on golden algae ( Prymnesium parvum), a naturally occurring microscopic flagellated algae that is normally only found in waters with a high salt content. Worldwide the algae can be found in estuaries where freshwater mixes with seawater, obviously places far from southwestern Pennsylvania. Golden algae originated in the United States in 1985 in Texas and Oklahoma and since that time has stayed along the coast or in southern states, never this far north. Flowback water, millions of gallons per hydraulic fracturing well, is loaded with salts from deep beneath the earth’s surface, and is many times saltier than ocean water. Simply put, salty water caused the golden algae, but what caused the salty water?

In 2011, Consol Energy, the owner of Morris Run air shaft Shipman was dumping into that eventually leads to Dunkard Creek, agreed to pay $5.5 million and spend up to another $200 million on a state-of-the-art water treatment plant to be up and running by May 2013, but the company admitted no guilt. Instead an attorney for the company spoke of it in terms of mystic or God-like phenomena. According to The Intelligencerand Wheeling News Register, Consol attorney Carol Marunich claimed that “the presence of (golden algae) in the Dunkard Creek watershed were the result of natural forces beyond the control,” of the company, and later referred to the algae as an “unprecedented, abnormal, and extraordinary event.”

In her suit on behalf of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (the fact that the PA DEP did not file against Consol is something that causes much ire among Billy Craig and many Greene County residents), attorney Sharon Hall described Consol’s “illegal, toxic discharges,” and termed the deeds “willful, wanton and malicious…”

In July 2009, two months prior to the fish kill, Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz of the West Virginia Water Research Institute and a group of researchers were testing water in Dunkard. Ziemkiewicz remembers the water as stagnant with “extremely high” electronic conductivity (EC) readings and a total dissolved solids (TDS) level of 9,000 mg/L. TDS “represents the total concentration of dissolved substances in water… made up of inorganic salts, as well as a small amount of organic matter,” according to the Safe Drinking Water Foundation. DEP data shows that the TDS level would rise in the months ahead to a level of 21,764 mg/L on September 21 taken at Blacksville #2 Mine Outfall 005, with water quality standards in Pennsylvania set at a TDS of 500 mg/L. Fresh unadulterated water normally has a TDS level of less than 100 mg/L.

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