The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered Energy Transfer Partners to suspend construction of its US$4.2-billion Rover pipeline late last week, and the state of Ohio issued a $430,000 fine, after the company spilled two million gallons of drilling mud on pristine wetlands that will take decades to recover from the impact.
ETP’s more famous piece of infrastructure, the Dakota Access Pipeline, managed to spill 84 gallons of oil last week, before it officially went into operation.
The far larger spill of bentonite mud “is a tragedy in that we would anticipate this wetland won’t recover to its original condition for decades,” said James Lee, spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. And if only ETP had “more carefully followed best practices and been prepared to respond to the bentonite release, this likely would not have occurred on the scale that we are dealing with now.”
FERC’s Office of Special Projects suspended construction on the Rover line after the spill April 13 and 14, at a site about an hour south of Cleveland, EcoWatch reports. In a letter to ETP last Wednesday, Director Terry Turpin expressed “serious concerns” about the size of the spills and the “lack of clarity regarding the underlying reasons for its occurrence, and the possibility of future problems.”
“Although the mud is nontoxic, officials worry that it could smother wildlife, plants, and affect the wetlands’ water chemistry,” explains correspondent Lorraine Chow. “FERC’s order affects horizontal directional drilling in eight out of 30 drilling areas associated with the project. The regulators have also required Rover to obtain independent third-party consultants to study the company’s drilling plans.”
In an emailed statement, ETP told Think Progress it had done nothing wrong.
“We have placed a great deal of focus and importance on our construction and mitigation efforts,” the company stated. “We are not out of compliance with any of our permits. It is unfortunate that the Ohio EPA has misrepresented the situation and misstated facts in its recent comments.” It described bentonite clay as a “naturally occurring” substance that is “safe for the environment”, adding that the spill will have no long-term environmental impact.
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler called that reaction “dismissive” and “extremely disappointing”, adding that the spill would “kill just about everything in that wetland” by exposing a previously pristine site to a substance the consistency of a milk shake, to a depth of a couple of feet.
“As of yet, I’m not convinced that they’re not more focused on getting the lines in rather than doing it safely, protecting the environment and public health,” Butler told the Washington Post.
“We are significant proponents of shale oil and gas development in Ohio,” he added, in an interview with Midwest Energy News, “but the governor would say you have to do it right.” Meanwhile, the FracTracker Alliance warned the spills could point to a bigger problem with the state’s fracking industry.
“I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said spokesperson Ted Auch, suggesting that many similar, smaller incidents may go undetected. “How many little spills are there?”