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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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Running Red

On July 31, 2012, Ken Dufalla invited me to accompany him to test water throughout Greene County. That way, he said, I could see for myself, and nothing would be lost in translation. Joining us was another Harry Enstrom member, Chuck Hunnell, a 69-year-old former U.S. history teacher. Prior to teaching, Hunnell was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and a former Vietnam veteran. Again, anyone trying to shove the earth’s health aside and throw around outdated labels towards those looking out for the environment needs to face reality. These aren’t a bunch of hippies smoking pot and preaching utopian ideals. These are men and women fighting and who’ve already fought for this country. As Ken Gayman told the Greene County Messenger on June 22, “Why did I go to fight in Vietnam and see my fellow Marines die in battle only to have big polluters destroy the country?” Gayman added. “It’s time for people to stand up and take America back.”

Chuck Hunnell would like nothing more than to simply enjoy the waters he fishes in retirement, but once you see your streams turn blood red, it’s hard to ignore. Retired or not, Hunnell is out there all day with us. 

Just a few days before my visit, after a period of high rain in the region, Dufalla’s team alerted the DEP of discharges running through Smith Creek a half mile south of downtown Waynesburg. Smith Creek was our first stop.

We tested water near where a discharge from Emerald Mine (Outfall 001) enters the stream. Emerald Coal or Emerald Mine, a vast mining area, sits high on a hill obscured by trees. Guards man the gates at the entrance; a fortress-like setting. It’s impossible to view what’s going into the ponds that are then piped into Smith Creek, only what comes out. Our water sampling results showed TDS 1890 of mg/L, which far exceeds the recommended standard of less than 500 mg/L and an EC reading of 3760 µS/cm, which has a standard of 1,000 µS/cm. (EC or electrical conductivity measures inorganic dissolved ionic components in water, such as its salinity. People can taste saltiness in water at EC levels of 1,500 to 2,000.) The color of the stream was light red. Minnows viewed days earlier according Dufalla were now absent in the impaired water. Only flies and a northern banded water snake were seen.

Next we visited what Dufalla called “the number-one polluter in Greene County”— Emerald Mine Bleeder #5, discharge 016, a treatment pond for coal mine discharge water, which leads to Whiteley Creek, before emptying into the Monongahela above Carmichaels, the community experiencing all of the trouble with THM. For bromide sampling, Dufalla relies on the sampling from the DEP or WRI (data filed at  www.monriverquest.org/map.cfm). As he wrote in a recent Greene County Messenger column, certified samples from this site in August  2011 showed bromide levels exceeding 11 mg/L. Our tests for EC exceeded the instrument maximum of 10,000 µS/cm for EC and the maximum 5,000 mg/L for TDS. Again, this is for post-treated water. 

At each subsequent testing site sampling revealed levels, which far exceeded the standard set by the state. Each site being a tributary leading to the Monongahela, a source of drinking water. Whiteley Creek: EC 3400 µS/cm, 1710 TDS mg/L. Clyde Mine Discharge leading to Ten Mile Creek: TDS 4000 mg/L.

Shipman’s activities opened up a Pandora’s box. While his more heinous crimes, dumping in the rain and on the roads, are tough to get past, it might be his use of an old mine shaft that has the most importance moving forward, because the discharges coming from mines today do not match what’s historically been recorded in this area, such as the case with bromide. As Adam Federman wrote in Earth Island Journal, “Untreated acid mine discharges typically have conductance values of between 1,000 and 1,500 µS/cm.” Testing with Dufalla and Hunnell, our sampling revealed levels as high as 10 times that limit, and from “treated” discharges.

 
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