Thursday, July 19, 2012

Exposing Another False Claim Made By Gasland, Rolling Stone Magazine & McKibben: The Truth About The Pollution Of Dunkard Creek

Gasland contains so many errors and false claims that it successfully injected into the public square that years of setting the record straight will be required.  Among Gasland's most successful falsehoods was that gas drilling caused a massive, horrific fish kill on Dunkard Creek, a beautiful waterway flowing from West Virginia into Pennsylvania.

Just this year, Rolling Stone Magazine and Bill McKibben for the New York Review of Books both repeated the Gasland claim that gas drilling caused the Dunkard Creek fish kill in 2009.   Never mind that state and federal agencies have stated that the fish kill was caused by an invasive species, an algae, that thrives in waters with high levels of total dissolved solids.  Never mind that the source of the high levels of total dissolved solids was mining discharges and not gas drilling.

The Gasland Dunkard Creek falsehood keeps marching on and is repeated by important people who should but may not know better.  But now, perhaps, the truth about Dunkard Creek is being rescued with the passage of time.

Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote on Saturday, July 14th an important article that describes the truth of what is polluting still to this day Dunkard Creek.  Hopey's article has received far too little notice so far, but it destroys the claim by Gasland that gas drilling is what ails Dunkard Creek.

Hopey writes: "High levels of total dissolved solids are polluting the lower five miles of Dunkard Creek, site of a massive 2009 fish kill, and adversely affecting water quality in the Monongahela River, according to state environmental officials."  Not good news, but notice no mention of gas drilling.

Hopey continues: "The high TDS concentrations on Dunkard Creek...are caused by a combination of low stream flow due to drought conditions, abandoned mine discharges and the discharges from Dana Mining's Steele Shaft treatment plants."  Notice again that gas drilling is not fingered as the problem.

The problems on Dunkard Creek, including the 2009 horrible fish kill, are caused by mining discharges and not gas drilling.  Period.  Some of those discharges were in West Virginia but have been addressed. Others are in Pennsylvania.

Dealing with the legacy of mining remains the single biggest challenge to Pennsylvania's water quality, and the problem is complex and hugely expensive.  The story of Dana Mining, the company mentioned in the Hopey piece, underlines just how difficult ending legacy coal mine pollution is.  Indeed, Dana Mining is far from a villain, as one might wrongly infer from the Hopey piece.

Years ago, water levels were rising in the then abandoned mines that Dana Mining is today operating. Prior to Dana Mining commencing operations, the mine water levels were reaching a critical point and were threatening to burst from the earth, sending a deluge of highly acidic, coal mine water into Dunkard Creek.  The result would have been an enormous environmental disaster that would have killed just about everything in Dunkard Creek at that point and below it.

As disaster neared, Dana Mining entered the picture and offered to renew mining, stop the rising mine waters, treat the water for acidity and some other pollutants, and discharge it.  The agreement between the Commonwealth and Dana Mining did not include treatment of the water for dissolved solids--sulfates, chlorides, and so on.  Removing such total dissolved solids is difficult and so expensive that mining would have been uneconomic.

Again had not Dana Mining begun operations, the coal mine waters would have burst forth and have devastated Dunkark Creek.

While TDS when it reaches high concentrations impacts water quality, it is also less devastating to aquatic life than acid mine pollution, so the agreement between the Commonwealth and Dana Mining represented a classic instance of 2 steps forward and 1 backward.  It was better than doing nothing, much better, but it did not solve all the problems impairing Dunkard Creek.

Still another problem for Dunkard Creek has been its use as a propaganda prop in Gasland that detracts from the real issues affecting it.  Hopefully, Hopey's Pittsburgh Post Gazette piece begins to set the record straight and focuses attention on the real issues.


  1. Thanks, John. This is a family homeland in a way. My great great great grandfather Asa Miller, had a mill on Dunkard Creek in the second half of the 1800s and early 1900s. My grandmother was born in the house at the mill and was married in the living room of that house as well. I have not been over there searching for the place since 2003 but you have reminded me I need a trip there again.

  2. I believe Hopey and the Post Gazette originally published a story in 2009 blaming the oil and gas industry for this event. Although the article was later corrected, it did a fair amount of damage...

  3. With marine life it also affected the taste of public drinking water supplies.

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