Pipeline construction: More ‘drilling mud’ leaks likely


SALEM, Ohio — Concerns have been raised over three separate bentonite, or drilling mud, leaks in Ohio and West Virginia since Oct. 24, but a geoscience expert with Penn State University said the incidents are not uncommon.

Columbiana County

In Ohio, the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the spill of bentonite in Columbiana County, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a spill in Ohio County.

The spill in Ohio is along a pipeline construction site on County Home Road between U.S. Route 30 and state Route 172.

According to the Ohio EPA, Access Midstream reported leaks Oct. 24 and Oct. 31. More than 25,000 gallons of bentonite slurry has been released during the two spills. The drilling company was reportedly using directional drilling to install a 12-inch pipeline under a wetlands.

No creek impacts

Mike Settles, EPA media relations, said the drillers reportedly hit what is thought to be an old strip mine or fissure in the ground, and the slurry came to the surface. He said the leaks have been more frequent in southeastern Ohio where strip mining was historically more common.

The slurry mixture is used as a lubricant for pipeline construction.

According to the EPA, the Cold Run Creek was not impacted. The drilling company installed plastic fencing and kept the Bentonite slurry from migrating into the creek.

Losing home?

However, a family in Ohio County, W.Va., is out of their home right now as drillers determine what to do about a spill that left more than 6,000 gallons of a drilling mud mixture in the home Oct. 24.

Basement leak

A pipeline being constructed by MarkWest Liberty Midstream and Resources, LLC., from Majorsville, W.Va., to Hopedale, Ohio, hit a snag, resulting in over 6,000 gallons of drilling mud being leaked into an old non-working water well in a basement of a house owned by Becky and John Wieczorkowski.

Creek impacts

The West Virginia DEP cited MarkWest Energy for allowing the drilling mud to infiltrate Little Wheeling Creek, creating “conditions not allowable in state waters.”

The company was cited for failing to provide sufficient protection  to prevent the substance from getting into the creek. According to DEP spokesman Tom Aluise, 30 minnows, crayfish and other aquatic life died in the accident.

He said the drilling mud entered the creek through cracks in the creek bed.

Aluise described drilling mud as a non-toxic mixture with bentonite as the main ingredient. It is used in the drilling process to lubricate the drilling bit, and keep the hole open until the pipeline can be added.
The violation administered by the DEP is not for the house being flooded with mud, just for the release into the creek.

MarkWest Energy reported the incident to the DEP.

Health department

Howard Gamble, administrator for the Ohio County Health Department, said the department cannot declare the home uninhabitable, but stated that the house is considered dangerous because of the walls being destroyed.

He said MarkWest is working with the homeowners to find suitable housing.

Gamble added the water well in the house was not in use. It wasn’t even located on the oldest records kept by the department of health.

Clay compound

The drilling mud, or bentonite, in both incidents is used in pipeline construction.

Terry Engelder, geoscience expert at Penn State University, said the bentonite is simply clay. He added that if it is the only compound or chemical in the drilling mud, then it isn’t a problem for people.

He added that the bentonite leaks are fairly common and have also happened in Pennsylvania numerous times in pipeline construction.

Engelder said the pipeline industry is sensitive to what it includes in drilling mud, and added most materials included are often close to food grade to help ensure the safety of the environment and people.

Engelder added, however, that cattle are sensitive to water with a high level of clay and they often won’t drink it.


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