From a fish kill in our public park, to a torched impoundment liner on Labor Day, to repeated spills into a small creek, air pollution violations and more spills, 2009 had more than its share of Marcellus Shale bloopers!


Spill and fish kill in Washington County’s premiere public park and lake!



Flaming pit liners Batman!


Sometime around September 1, 2009, there was a massive fish kill along most of Dunkard Creek. The creek criss-crosses the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border 18-times before reaching the Monongahela River, which flows north to Pittsburgh, where it joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River.

Dunkard Creek is a 38-mile creek that contained a unique ecosystem with 161 species of fish, 14 species of mussels, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects. It was one of only two or three creeks like it on the Monongahela River watershed. Some experts say it will be decades before the fishery returns to normal, if ever. Many of the fish were over 15 years old. It’s believed the prized mussel population may be lost forever.

20,000 fish and other aquatic life
While the exact source(s) of the pollutants were still being determined, it is obvious that water high in TDS (total dissolved solids) was to blame. High TDS levels, combined with other favorable environmental conditions, created the perfect environment for a toxic golden algae bloom that helped kill an estimated 20,000 fish and other aquatic life.

“Even if the algae bloom is what ultimately killed the fish, it seems that the cause of the bloom is high chloride levels.  The high chloride levels are a clear indicator of frac water, not mine pollution (which is high in sulfates).  The agencies just refuse to say the words ‘Marcellus drilling’ in any press article.”

Local water expert

High TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)
High TDS conditions were also enhanced by low water levels in creeks and streams. These were caused by dry weather and widespread water withdrawals from streams and creeks for fracing operations. Tanker trucks can back-up to any stream 24-7 and pump out 4,200 gallons or more at any time. Many watersheds in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have been dried-up by this continuing raid for free water, since each Marcellus well can require up to 6-million gallons of water for fracing.

Vaccuum truck hose left on the bank of Dunkard Creek

In Texas, golden alga-related fish kills have occurred in inland waters with high salt or mineral content, usually west of I-35. The first confirmed case was in 1985 on the Pecos River in the Rio Grande Basin. Since then, golden alga has been responsible for multiple fish kills in five river basins. More: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Moonlight dumping
Some of these same “Residual Waste” tankers were ‘moonlight dumping’ wastewater into remote tributaries and opening their drain valves as they drove back roads under the cover of rain or darkness. One farmer noticed wet roads in the morning, during a summer drought.

“In March 2011, Pennsylvania authorities arrested a local waste hauler, Allan Shipman, whose trucks were contracted to dispose of flowback brine from gas companies. The allegations against Shipman, laid out in a grand jury presentment, say he improperly disposed of brine in tributaries of Dunkard Creek.” Source
News story – Pennsylvania AG Charges SW Business with Dumping Millions of Gallons of Drilling, Other Wastewater:
Newspaper story – “Gas Profiteers’ Shocking Crimes” – August 18, 2012:

In an outrageous judgment reached by Greene County, PA Judge Farley Toothman, seven years probation and an order to pay $257,316 in restitution was given to Robert Allan Shipman, a PA man who pleaded guilty to illegally dumping millions of gallons of wastewater  from shale-gas drilling over several years. The judgment, according to The Wall Street Journal, was being “closely watched”, setting a terrible precedent for any one or any company that may choose to illegally dump wastewater in the future.
Toothman gave a number of absurd reasons as to why he handed down such a lax sentence to Shipman, including: Shipman’s cooperation in the investigation, the recent suicide of his stepdaughter, and past “indifference” to such crimes from prosecutors. But none of these reasons exonerate Shipman for illegally dumping MILLIONS OF GALLONS of toxic wastewater and putting the lives of untold living organisms in peril.

BlueVirginia | PA Judge Sentence Sets Terrible Precedent for Illegally Dumping Wastewater
Greene County Courthouse

The state attorney general’s office filed an appeal with the state Superior Court this week, claiming Greene County Judge Farley Toothman’s probationary sentence given to Robert Allan Shipman was unreasonable and “did not fit the crime.” Shipman, of New Freeport, was accused of illegally dumping drilling wastewater, sewage sludge and restaurant grease into area streams, a mine shaft and on various properties throughout the area between 2003 and 2009. He also was accused of stealing more than $250,000 by overbilling companies that hired him to haul and dispose of wastewater by-products. The commonwealth recommended Shipman be sentenced in the standard range of the sentencing guidelines for the most serious charge of theft, which is 9 to 16 months in jail.

Observer-Reporter | State files appeal of New Freeport hauler’s sentence | Updated December 5, 2017

Consol, the former Consolidation Coal Company, and its new division CNX Gas were very active along Dunkard Creek. A local reporter included this in a recent newspaper story about Dunkard Creek:

The only deep injection wastewater well in the area permitted by the U.S. EPA 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. 
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.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sep. 20, 2009

A local coal mining expert offered his theories:
These wastewater fluids could have moved laterally and vertically through former wells, mines and bore holes. Some reports indicated the source of the contamination was ongoing, three weeks after the initial fish kill. Drilling wastewater contains Mother Nature’s own mix of toxins from beneath the earth, in addition to the frac fluids added above ground for the fracking process.

What also remains to be explained is why it took two weeks for a full scale investigation of the Dunkard Creek fish kill to begin!
Photos of the ‘Beaver Dam’ – September 24, 2009:
US EPA Region 3 Update – November 23, 2009:

Two years after Dunkard Creek suffered one of the worst fish kills ever in West Virginia or Pennsylvania, the reason for the chemical changes that spawned it remain a mystery. U.S. EPA has ended its investigation and pointed the finger at a local coal mine, Blacksville No. 2, and entered a multimillion-dollar settlement with the owner, Consol Energy Inc. But the lead EPA biologist on the case has challenged that idea, saying that the most likely explanation for the fish kill involves the environmental effects of Marcellus Shale drilling. A year later when the fish kill did not repeat itself, Reynolds suggested (pdf) to a colleague that one possible reason is “because this year they aren’t dumping massive amounts of frac water into Dunkard. That is unsubstantiated — but plausible.”
The agency entered into an agreement (pdf) in March with Consol Energy, which operates several local coal mines and manages drainage from the active and closed mines. The company agreed to pay $6 million in fines to settle water pollution allegations that included the Dunkard Creek fish kill. Consol made no admission of liability, but it agreed to spend up to $200 million on a water treatment plant.

By Mike Soraghan | Greenwire | In Fish-Kill Mystery, EPA Scientist Points at Shale Drilling | October 12, 2011
“Something has changed in the mine pools,” Reynolds wrote in a November 2009 email:

“What a mess! Up to our knees in rotting fish, mussels, and mudpuppys is no fun — it’s criminal. Dead mudpuppys look like sock puppets floating in the stream. Mussels die, the meat rots off the shell, then bloats and floats down the stream like a hellish jelly fish. The stench of rotting fish takes a day or more to work out of your scent memory.”

EPA biologist Lou Reynolds, a Wheeling, W.Va.-based member of the EPA’s regional freshwater biology team
After a meeting with Consol officials and West Virginia environmental officials, Reynolds expressed frustration:
More emails obtained by Greenwire through a Freedom of Information Act:

Growth of a toxic algae killed more than 42,000 fish, 15,000 mussels and 6,000 salamanders in Greene County in 2009
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will be allowed to proceed with a seven-figure lawsuit in West Virginia against Consol Energy Inc. over a 2009 massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek, the West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled. The decision Thursday reversed a lower-court ruling in July that dismissed the case on a claim by Consol that the state agency did not have the legal standing to sue in West Virginia.
Now the case is remanded to Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr. in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County. “We’re very happy that the West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with us that the West Virginia courts are in a position to hear our complaint against Consol so we can get on with the merits of the case and discuss them,” John Arway, the commission’s executive director, said Friday.

By Jonathan D. Silver | Pa. agency can sue Consol for fish kill | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | May 9, 2014

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has reached a tentative settlement of a lawsuit that sought damages for mine discharges that caused a massive fish kill on more than 40 miles of Dunkard Creek along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border in 2009.
Details of the proposed settlement were not available Wednesday, but it will include financial payments by Murray Energy Corp. to the fish commission for damage to the aquatic life of the creek caused by discharges of polluted water from Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 mine. The lawsuit was originally filed against Consol Energy in September 2011, but Murray Energy inherited the legal action when it bought the Consolidation Coal Co. from Consol in 2013.
The salty discharges from the Consol mine spawned a bloom of toxic, golden algae, normally found in Texas and other Southwestern states, that killed more than 42,000 fish, 15,000 freshwater mussels and 6,000 of a type of large salamander called mudpuppies. Consol, the Cecil-based mining and natural gas company that owned the Blacksville No. 2 mine at the time of the fish kill, paid a total of $5.5 million in civil penalties in 2011 to settle hundreds of federal Clean Water Act violations at six mines it owned in West Virginia, including the pollution discharges that contributed to the Dunkard Creek fish kill. Consol also paid $500,000 to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources as compensation for the lost aquatic resources on the West Virginia portions of Dunkard Creek.

By Don Hopey | State settles lawsuit with mining firm over fish kill on Dunkard Creek | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | August 5, 2015

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced Monday it reached a $2.5 million settlement with Murray Energy Corp. for civil damages related to the September 2009 fish kill on Dunkard Creek. In its lawsuit, the commission had estimated 42,997 fish, 15,382 mussels and 6,447 mudpuppy salamanders died in the kill.
“The devastation was astonishing,” Executive Director John Arway said. “PFBC biologists collected 40 species of fish and 14 species of mussels that were killed by the incident. Among the dead mussels was the Pennsylvania endangered snuffbox mussel,” he said.

Observer-Reporter | Settlement announced on Dunkard Creek fish kill | Updated December 6, 2017
Was there a Texas connection?
Report Prepared for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – October 1, 2005:
Toxic Golden Algae in Texas – January 2002:
NETL Study – Greene County, PA – September 15, 2014:

December 6, 2022 – Greene County DA investigating East Dunkard Water Authority
“This investigation includes analyzing the toxicity levels and dangers of the water that has been distributed to the public, and any criminal actions that may have occurred,” Greene County District Attorney David Russo said in a written statement. During an inspection in July 2021, the DEP said it found that the authority had failed to maintain a variable speed mixer for more than a year and a chlorine analyzer had been disabled by storms earlier that month. Water quality testing also was not performed regularly in compliance with DEP requirements, according to the administrative order. The inspection also revealed that turbidimeters that measure water clarity had been “capped” and were not giving accurate readings when there were higher turbidity levels that would alert plant workers to cloudy water in the system.


10,500 Gallon Spill Report:
Lab Results for Brush Run Spill:


Inspection Report:


Fulton Compressor Station

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