Mishap releases drilling slurry into wetlands

FRANKLIN SQUARE – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of regulatory response of interest (RNI) to Access Midstream regarding a release of bentonite clay slurry at a wetlands bore site near Salem.

The company is laying a gathering pipeline to transport oil and gas products from wells to larger collection lines for transport out of the area.

The problem occurred in the area about a mile east of state Route 45 on the south side of state Route 558 in Salem Township where the company is directionally drilling a 6,400-foot line under a wetlands area to reach a connecting trench on the other side.

A bentonite clay slurry is used to lubricate the cutting tool head.

The EPA was notified May 19 and spokeswoman Linda Oros said the equipment struck an open area while boring and the bentonite clay was released at two locations.

Oros said the procedure is not associated with drilling or the fracking of wells but with the installation of the underground Midstream pipelines moving products to processing plants.

She said while boring under the wetlands, Access Midstream encountered “soft material” and about 600 to 1,000 gallons of bentonite-contaminated water is being removed.

Equipment operators noticed clay was no longer being returned and realized they hit something they shouldn’t have,” she said, explaining the clay slurry was no longer coming out where it should have.

It occurred in two locations, she said.

“It’s not the ideal situation.”

The areas of contaminated water were cordoned off with silk fencing and three feet of water was pumped out of the area for disposal.

Oros characterized it as “small to medium” sized. The company had to shut down and start over,” Oros explained.

“They lose a lot of money.”

Dana Pierce, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said the notice of regulatory response of interest is a relatively new emergency response document that was issued to Access Midstream outlining what is expected as far as pumping out, recovering and disposing of the bentonite, and possible enforcement action if it fails to respond.

Oros said it “tells them to clean it up.”

She said, “It is not the first release of its type in Columbiana County (and) … and there is no hazard or danger of it getting into the air.

“They have had a release into waters of the state which is a problem, but they are responding appropriately to address the issue, and the main concern is damage to the wetland, and wetland habitat.”

Crews were on the scene Thursday afternoon and Pierce said due to the ongoing nature of the incident the EPA will monitor the cleanup progress.

According to the Access Midstream website it owns and operates natural gas midstream assets across nine states, with an average throughput of approximately 3.8 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d) and more than 6,300 miles of natural gas gathering pipelines.

Shields writes for the Salem News.