Few people would ever guess that drilling for natural gas could significantly affect the movement of river barges, but recent events suggest otherwise. In late October water analyses in the mid-Monongahela valley indicated high levels of dissolved solids. To reduce dangers to pubic water supplies and fish populations, the Corps of Engineers increased releases from Tygart and Stonewall Jackson lakes. The Corps was able to do so for only a short period because of the need to supply water for downstream navigation. The lake levels are low and recreational boat access to Tygart Lake was threatened.
Newspaper reports say that the initial alarms came from riverside industries, not governmental monitoring. Both Allegheny Power's electric plant at Masontown, PA and the U.S. Steel Clairton coke plant suddenly recorded high total dissolved solids (TDS) in their cooling water.
Preliminary analysis suggested that the threat came from large truck deliveries of waste water from gas well drilling in the Marcellus Shales to sanitary waste plants discharging, directly or indirectly, into the Monongahela River. A 11 November 2008 article in the Washington, PA Observer-Reporter, [Waynesburg, PA] Council Approves Tentative Budget, indicates that this disposal method has been profitable to both local authorities and drillers.
The following articles and press releases give a summary of the incident which began in October:
On 14 November 2008 UMRA and the Mon River Recreation & Commerce Committee of the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting on the October incident, focussing on the shale water questions. Over fifty people, including staff from WV, PA, and US environmental agencies attended.
The following speakers made presentations:
The technical experts attending appeared to universally agree that:
Put another way, no one should panic, but attention is needed by the public and government to avoid future incidents with significant consequences.
The following technical information presented at that meeting is copied here:
High TDS in the Monongahela River: Analysis of Chemical Data, Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University