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Rover pipeline construction leads to mud spills in Ohio wetlands

The path of the Rover pipeline will cut through Lenawee, Washtenaw and Livingston counties
Energy Transfers
The path of the Rover pipeline will cut through Lenawee, Washtenaw and Livingston counties

The Rover pipeline will run through three counties in southeast Michigan once it's built.

But for now, the company building the natural gas pipeline, is busy cleaning up mud.

According to Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee, Energy Transfer reported two bentonite spills in mid-April.

"[Bentonite is] a natural clay mud used as a lubricant for drilling," Lee said. "It's a common application; [bentonite] doesn't contain any additives or chemicals."

An estimated 1.5-2 million gallons of bentonite spilled into wetlands in Stark County in northeast Ohio on April 13, as reported by Energy Transfer to the Ohio EPA, according to Lee.

A smaller spill of about 50,000 gallons of bentonite at another location was reported the next day, Lee said.

According to an Energy Transfer statement issued Monday, bentonite was being used as a lubricant for drills doing horizontal directional drilling, a trenchless method of installing pipeline underground.

"The pressure of the mud found a permeable pathway from where the drilling was taking place about 70 feet (underground) and made its way to the surface," Lee said.

Lee says the thick mud can affect the chemistry of the water in the wetland and possibly suffocate small wildlife. He says neither bentonite spill affected any public or private water wells.

But cleaning up after the spills could be challenging. "Imagine a thick clay mud over an area of 1ooo feet long by 500 feet wide, and 1.5 to 2 million gallons of [the mud]," Lee said. "It will take some time [to clean]."

Lee says Energy Transfer is managing the cleanup, with the Ohio EPA supervising. The EPA could decide to fine Energy Transfer pending a final review of both cleanup sites.

In a statement Monday, Energy Transfer said, "Rover has implemented its Contingency Plan to properly dispose of the mud and is working closely with the Ohio EPA and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in accordance with its permits, certificates and prior approvals. People in the area may note that the water could be slightly more cloudy than usual until the clay settles and dissipates."

The Sierra Club of Michigan Gas and Oil Chairperson Nancy Schiffler called for construction of the Rover pipeline to halt in a statement released Monday.

“Construction on the Rover pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy’s Transfer’s total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted," Schiffler said.

But Lee says his agency is more concerned with getting the drilling mud cleaned up.

“Right now, Ohio EPA is focused on the cleanup and making sure the company complies with Ohio's environmental laws,” Lee said.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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