Pennsylvania commission settles legal dispute over coal mine discharge

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Sept. 14 confirmed that it has reached a $2.5 million settlement with Murray Energy for civil damages resulting from a 2009 pollution incident, which pre-dated Murray Energy’s acquisition of the affected operation, in which discharges from a coal mine entered Dunkard Creek, contributing to a fish kill spanning nearly 30 miles of stream in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Ohio-based Murray Energy agreed to pay the settlement in lieu of civil damages for the lost aquatic life and lost fishing opportunities for Pennsylvania anglers as a result of the pollution incident, the commission said.

“We’re pleased that we’ve reached a settlement and can close this chapter of the Dunkard Creek case,” said PFBC Executive DirectorJohn Arway. “Thanks to the efforts of our outside counsel, Sharon Z. Hall, Esquire of Zimmer Kunz, PLLC, and Robert P. Fitzsimmons, Esquire of Fitzsimmons Law Firm, four long years of litigation have come to an end. But it will take many more years to restore the creek to its prior condition. The devastation was astonishing. 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.”

The funds will be placed in a restricted revenue account within the Fish Fund to be utilized for the primary purpose of developing and implementing projects that benefit recreational fishing and boating and the aquatic resources of the Dunkard Creek watershed. Once restoration is complete, the commission may use the remaining funds for restoration projects in other southwestern Pennsylvania watersheds.

In early September 2009, a total fish and mussel kill occurred in the creek after high concentrations of chloride and total dissolved solids in the discharge from CONSOL Energy‘s Blacksville No. 2 longwall mine, which works the Pittsburgh coal seam in northern West Virginia. This discharge created brackish water conditions favorable for a bloom of toxic golden algae. The Dunkard Creek main stem begins in Greene County, Pa., and meanders about 37 miles between Pennyslvania and West Virginia until its confluence with the Monongahela River in Greene County, Pa.

At the time of the incident, the mine was owned by CONSOL, which in late 2013 sold it and several other Pittsburgh-seam longwall mines in northern West Virginia to Murray Energy.

In March 2011, CONSOL Energy reached settlements with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The PFBC was not included in the settlements and subsequently filed lawsuits in September 2011 in West Virginia and Pennsylvania courts.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.