Pipeline driller still polluting
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, August 12, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
A company that faces state sanctions and fines for pipeline-construction spills in eastern Ohio continues to foul streams and wetlands.
Scott Nally, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, told Denver-based MarkWest Energy in a March 8 letter that the size and repeated nature of four spills dating to September were “unacceptable.”
As the EPA and the company negotiate penalties, agency reports show that MarkWest and its contractors have had 13 additional spills in Belmont, Harrison, Guernsey, Monroe and Noble counties, including a 1,200-gallon slurry spill that polluted a Monroe County wetland in July.
MarkWest attorney Chris Jones said the most-recent spills are smaller and less severe than those reported in 2012.
Much of MarkWest’s problem stems from drilling in areas that were once strip-mined for coal, Jones said. Soils and rocks there often are too loosely packed to contain the slurry.
“If there is any indication of a void in the ground, we stop drilling and address it,” said Jones, a former Ohio EPA director.
EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said the agency continues to investigate the spills.
Teresa Mills, fracking coordinator for the Buckeye Forest Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the state should be tougher on the company.
“They should just totally make (MarkWest) stop until they figure out how to do it properly,” Mills said.
Abbruzzese said that’s an option, but the agency prefers to work with companies to eliminate problems instead of shutting them down.
MarkWest is among a group of companies building a network of pipelines across eastern Ohio. The work is considered a key element to the state’s shale-drilling and fracking boom.
Oil and gas companies need the pipelines to send natural gas, propane, butane and ethane from Utica shale wells to large nearby processing plants, which also are under construction. The plants separate the gases and help ship them to market.
The spills have occurred when a drill is used to carve a tunnel for pipelines underneath streams and wetlands. A clay-and-water slurry, used to help clear the tunnels of debris, bursts out or seeps out of the ground.
The slurry does not contain toxic chemicals, said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “It’s not like you have an oil spill or anything.”
But the slurry can smother plants and aquatic wildlife.
MarkWest isn’t the only company to report such spills. Utica East Ohio Midstream reported a 500-gallon spill in Clearfork Creek in Harrison County on May 28.
Records show that Dominion East Ohio Gas has reported 14 spills since March, most of which involved gas distribution pipeline-maintenance work in northeastern Ohio.
MarkWest and the EPA have discussed abandoning drilling in some cases and simply digging trenches through wetlands and streams, Jones said. That would require a permit and work to repair or replace damaged waterways.
Jones said he thinks that both sides are close to an agreement.