Another scientist's analysis of the creek water indicated most of the TDS probably came from discharges at the Blacksville No. 2 mine and two other mines. The West Virginia Water Research Institute has been sampling water about 20 miles downstream from the fish kill since shortly before the incident. It showed high levels of TDS associated with mine water, containing sulfates, and low levels of TDS associated with gas waste, dominated by chlorides.
"The water signature is dominated by sulfates," said Paul Ziemkiewicz, the director of the National Research Center for Coal & Energy at West Virginia University.
EPA took early readings upstream of the fish kill that showed a high concentration of gas-associated TDS, but Ziemkiewicz said it was so diluted by the time it reached the WRI monitoring station that it barely registered.
Whether from coal mining or gas drilling, Reynolds got resistance from Consol on the idea of new regulations for TDS. After a meeting with Consol officials and West Virginia environmental officials, Reynolds expressed frustration.
"It would be like the surgeon general inviting Marlboro to the table to lead a discussion on smoking as a cause of cancer," he wrote. "I learned nothing new in two days except how hard Consol will fight to keep TDS from being regulated."
He later sent "toned down" comments to meeting organizers.
EPA officials consciously shied away from naming any particular culprit early on, particularly natural gas. Instead, they explained that high TDS had caused an algae bloom, without going into what caused the TDS spike or the bloom.
Emails show that naming a culprit for the fish kill was a sensitive subject. One staffer called the omission of a reason in an EPA news release a "glaring weakness." But an agency lawyer said the wording needed to be vague.
"Sorry, David, but straight assertions on how the TDS got there gets closer and closer to our enforcement action, on which we are still working," EPA attorney Nina Rivera said in a reply. "We can say that we are looking at the discharges into the creek, but I'm not ready to point fingers."
Reynolds' November 2009 report that obliquely cited coal mine drainage was the last public statement on the Dunkard Creek fish kill before the settlement in March.
In March, 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. But the specifics of the charges do not include anything that occurred upstream of the fish kill.
Click here to see the EPA emails.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500