Did fracking kill Dunkard Creek?

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After oil and gas extraction arrived in southwest Pennsylvania, a massive fill kill occurred.


In late August 2009, dead fish began washing up in Dunkard Creek, a small river that runs through West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. During the next month about 22,000 fish washed ashore (some estimates say as many as 65,000 died). At least 14 species of freshwater mussels – the river’s entire population – were destroyed, wiping out nearly every aquatic species along a 35-mile stretch of the waterway.

“That’s the ultimate tragedy,” says Frank Jernejcic, a fisheries biologist with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. “Fish will come back, we can get the fish back. The mussels are a generational thing.”

The scene was horrific: Three-foot long muskies washed up along the riverbanks. Mud puppies, a kind of gilled salamander that lives underwater, had tried to escape by crawling onto nearby rocks. Many of the fish were bleeding from the gills and covered in mucous. The die-off marked one of the worst ecological disasters in the region’s history.

Some people blame Pennsylvania’s growing natural gas industry and the method of coal bed methane extraction and hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, Others say it was acid mine drainage. Either way, industrial pollution is pushing the state’s waters to the breaking point.

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