Pennsylvania agency announces $2.5 million settlement with company over massive 2009 fish kill

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has reached a $2.5 million settlement with an energy company over a massive fish kill six years ago.

The agency had filed a lawsuit alleging discharges from a coal mine in September 2009 entered a creek and killed tens of thousands of fish and other aquatic life over nearly 30 miles of stream in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

State officials on Monday called devastation from the Dunkard Creek spill "astonishing" and said 40 species of fish and 14 species of mussels were killed, including an endangered mussel. In all, the panel said in the suits filed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 2011, an estimated 43,000 fish, 15,000 mussels and 6,500 mudpuppies died.

The settlement was reached with Ohio-based Murray Energy, which took over defense of the suit after it acquired the mine and others from Consol Energy, the commission said.

Murray Energy, which reiterated that it "was not involved in the events or circumstances in this case in any way," said the 2009 situation was caused by "a naturally occurring golden algae bloom."

"While this bloom was unfortunate, Dunkard Creek is recovering naturally, at a very rapid rate, and aquatic life is now thriving," the company said in a statement.

The Pennsylvania commission said high concentrations of chloride and total dissolved solids in the mine discharge "created brackish water conditions favorable for" the algae bloom.

A court in West Virginia dismissed the Pennsylvania agency's lawsuit, saying the commonwealth lacked standing to sue in West Virginia, but the West Virginia Supreme Court last year revived the lawsuit.

The settlement money will be used for projects that benefit recreational fishing and boating and the aquatic resources of the Dunkard Creek watershed, and for restoration projects in other southwestern Pennsylvania watersheds, the commission said.