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Rover Pipeline Spills Bring Construction Under Scrutiny

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent two Notices of Violation to Rover Pipeline, an Energy Transfer Company, on April 17, 2017. According to the notices, the company is coming under scrutiny because of two recent spills that released over two million gallons of drilling fluid near the Ohio wetlands.

The drilling fluid is a clay-based, mud-like lubricant that is used to help drill holes into the earth. In this case, the workers were drilling horizontally, working to build the high-pressure pipeline that will carry domestically produced natural gas to Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, and Canada, as well as to the East and Gulf Coasts.

EPA Orders Rover Pipeline to Remove Spilled Waste

In the first violation notice, issued on April 13, 2017, the EPA states that 2 million gallons of drilling fluids were released from a horizontal directional drilling project. The spill happened within a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County and accumulated within an estimated 500,000 square feet of the wetland. The EPA states that the fluids included betonite and impacted water quality.

In the second notice, issued on April 14, 2017, the EPA states that about 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids from the same operation were released within a wetland in Richland County. The fluids accumulated within an estimated 30,000 square foot area of the wetland. A failed pump is said to have caused this spill.

The EPA has ordered Rover Pipeline to contain and remove the fluids and mud that settled in the area, and properly dispose of all waste materials. The company will bear all costs of cleanup. The EPA is also considering possible fines and penalties against Energy Transfer.

Spills Have Been Contained; Cleanup is Ongoing

The spills aren’t a good sign this early in the project. Construction of the pipeline began recently in mid-March, and already there have been these two spills, as well as other incidents, like the demolishing of a house that was under consideration for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

According to PBS, Energy Transfer Partners has reported that the Richland County leak has already been cleaned up. Efforts are underway on the other spill, and the company expects to resume construction soon. A spokesman for Energy Transfer stated that the leak was not harmful to the environment, but the Ohio EPA has stated that it did impact water quality.

The main culprit seems to be the bentonite clay which, while non-toxic, does not break down easily in water. As a result, it can “smother” fish, wildlife, and invertebrates. The EPA recently told NewsHour that both spills had been contained, and cleanup was ongoing. EPA spokesman James Lee also told the Detroit Free Press that none of the bentonite reached the Tuscarawas River, and that no bentonite had been found in private water wells or public water systems.

Sierra Club Urges to Cease Pipeline Construction

The Sierra Club has called for construction on the pipeline to cease. The club’s Ohio Director, Jen Miller, said in a statement: “Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation….Construction on the Rover pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer’s total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted.”

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