Two Major Spills Cause More Bad PR for Dakota Access Pipeline

April 22nd 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

More than two million gallons of drilling fluid have spilled into Ohio’s wetlands this month due to two separate incidents related to the construction of the Energy Transfer Partner’s $4.2 million Rover Pipeline, according to a notice of violation from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The pipeline, which will carry natural gas obtained by fracking through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan to Ontario, Canada, spilled in both Richmond County, Ohio, and near the Tuscarawas River during its construction. The spill involved the failure to contain bentonite, a mud-like lubricant for drilling heads, which spilled in both locations. 

A spokesperson from Energy Transfer Partners, Alexis Daniel, claimed to local news outlet Ashland Source that the Richmond County spill had been cleaned up:

"Alexis Daniels [sic], spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, said in an e-mailed statement that Rover immediately referred to its procedures plan in place to properly dispose of the mud in accordance with all regulations and laws, as soon as the release was noted. Daniels [sic] emphasized that the drilling mud that was released is made up of natural clay and water and is non-toxic and it is not harmful to the environment.

"Daniels [sic] said the spill has been completely cleaned up and the work on that section of the pipeline has been completed."

“We are currently working to complete the cleanup at the other site in Stark County and anticipate returning to construction shortly,” Daniel, the same spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, said in a statement to PBS NewsHour.

However, at least one of the incidents “impacted water quality,” according to the Ohio EPA notice. NewsHour explains that bentonite is "a mineral used to help cat litter clump when it gets wet and does not break down easily in water, making it difficult to remove large clumps from aquifers."

The pipeline’s construction isn’t set to be finished until late this year, according to Energy Transfer Partners’ website for the project, but environmental groups have said that it has already had too much impact on nature.

Jen Miller, Director of the Ohio Sierra Club, said in a statement about the spills:

“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. We’ve always said that it’s never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.

“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.”

Energy Transfer Partners is also the corporation behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline that sparked months of protest after its construction path was changed to go alongside the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The tribe has argued that a spill from the crude oil pipeline could threaten the Missouri River, their source of water.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which began transporting oil in March, has faced a growing divestment campaign by activists since President Donald Trump's administration restarted construction of the project briefly halted under President Obama. Whereas the Rover Pipeline’s length will top out at just over 700 miles, the multistate Dakota Access Pipeline stretches to nearly 1,200 miles long.