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Energy Transfer Partners spills more than two million gallons of drilling fluid into local wetlands

Cleanup is underway after Energy Transfer Partners spilled more than two million gallons of drilling fluid into local wetlands in two spills that occurred earlier in the month. One leak spilled 50 thousand gallons of drilling fluid into Richland County wetlands. Another flooded wetlands near the Tuscarawas River with two million gallons.

Alex Rolland

"I do think it is reasonable for the people of Ohio to be calling the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Governor Kasich and asking them to stop construction of Energy Transfer's Rover Pipeline before even worse accidents occur," said Jen Miller, director of Sierra Club Ohio.
Miller spoke in response to two recent spills in Ohio related to construction of the Rover Pipeline. The project is operated by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, a source of international controversy.
Just weeks into the construction, the company spilled more than two million gallons of drilling fluid into local wetlands in two spills that occurred earlier in the month. One leak spilled 50 thousand gallons of drilling fluid into Richland County wetlands. Another flooded wetlands near the Tuscarawas River with two million gallons. The fluid is composed of bentonite, which is a type of absorbent clay.
Although Alexis Daniel, the media representative for the Rover Pipeline, indicated in a statement that the material was not toxic and no damage was done to the environment, the OEPA's notice of violation calls the fluid "a pollutant."
"We are really disconcerted that construction of this pipeline started just a few weeks ago and we already have two major spills," said Miller. "The wetlands in Stark County along the Tuscarawas river is one of the most pristine we have in the state. We are calling on the OEPA and Governor Kasich to halt construction of the pipeline, and investigate Energy Transfer Company's inability to keep communities and waterways safe. We should not rush this project given its enormous size. Pipelines are always dangerous–but this one crosses 18 counties, four major rivers and lots of other waterways."
The watershed affected by the massive two million gallon spill, is considered a Category Three Watershed–which is the most vibrant example of a wetland. "One thing I hope people realize is that these wetlands are ranked on their health and significance," said Marissa Lautzenheiser, Middle Tuscarawas River Watershed coordinator with Rural Action. "A Category Three is the best category."
Springtime is a crucial time for a wetland. "It's important because it's breeding season for a lot of amphibians." said Lautzenheiser. "Frogs and salamanders are reproducing and they use those wetlands."
Daniel said in response to the leak, several days after receiving a citation from the OEPA for release of a pollutant, "It is important to note this is a common and normal component of executing directional drilling operations, there will be no impact to the environment and the release of the drilling mud is being managed and mitigated. Bentonite is a type of clay that is non-toxic and not harmful in any way to the environment."
The issue, of course, is that even a substance, which could be considered non-toxic on its own, can have devastating consequences when released by the millions of gallons into a natural environment.
"A lot of people have been saying, 'It's just mud,' " said Lautzenheiser. "Two million gallons of mud is a lot if there wasn't any there to begin with."
"I'm hoping the EPA does not turn a blind eye," said Belle Everett, a member of the Huff Run, and president of the Mud Run watershed groups in Tuscarawas County. Everett is a former County Commissioner of Tuscarawas County. "A lot of people don't know these things are happening and don't understand the impact," said Everett. "Wetlands are very important features in the landscape. [They] protect and improve water quality; provide habitats for wildlife, insects, and fish; store floodwaters and maintain surface flow during dry periods. [These are] vital functions for people and wildlife."
Everett discussed the potential of damage to the watershed environment from the spill. "When you spill an estimated two million gallons of drilling fluids–there was bentonite and cuttings–definitely this will cause harm. It impacted over 11 acres with a layer of mud and fluid. It's difficult for us to predict what it will take to recover from this incident..."
The Sierra Club is deeply concerned by recent events. "Energy Transfer Partners is a large conglomerate that is fast growing. In 2002 they had 200 miles of pipeline, they now have more than 70,000 miles of pipeline," said Miller. "Their company is constructing and operating several controversial pipelines in addition to the Rover, most notably the Dakota Access Pipeline where the company bulldozed sacred sites in front of tribal members who had family members buried there; pipelines in west Texas that are threatening water supply; and many others across the country. They are known for giving significant campaign contributions to state leaders all the way up to the Oval office, which makes it difficult for citizens to obtain common sense oversight of their [Energy Transfer Partners'] dangerous pipelines–which is why the Sierra Clue is reviewing its legal actions."
Energy Transfer Partners had already created controversy around the Rover Pipeline, including suing private property owners along the pipeline's path for easements required for the company to quickly gain access and clear trees in the allowed window of time in an area where federally protected endangered brown bats are known to roost.
Energy Transfer Partners demolished a historic 173-year-old house in Carroll County that was being considered for the National Registry of Historic Places. The house was purchased by the pipeline company with the stated intent to convert it into office space. Any proposed demolition should have been reported to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It was not reported until several weeks after the demolition had occurred. Energy Transfer Partners paid $2.3 million dollars to a fund administered by the Ohio History Connection Foundation and the State Historic Preservation Office as mitigation for the demolition.
Concerns go beyond this spill and this pipeline. There are no isolated incidents in our environment. "I hope this incident reminds us that we are all connected to our watersheds, and we have a role in protecting them," said Lautzenheiser.
"We want people in office who respect and care about the environment," said Everett. "We have two congressmen here is Tuscarawas and neither have been very supportive of the EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers. I believe every day should be earth day. We cannot sacrifice our environment for the sake of doing business."

Published: April 21, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170429980