The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has curtailed work on a natural-gas pipeline in Ohio after the owner, Energy Transfer Partners, reported 18 leaks and spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling materials.
The pipeline regulator blocked Energy Transfer Partners, which also built the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, from starting horizontal drilling in eight areas where drilling has not yet begun. In other areas, where the company has already begun horizontal drilling, the FERC said drilling could continue.
The FERC also ordered the company to double the number of environmental inspectors and to preserve documents the commission wants to examine as it investigates the spills.
The biggest spill, in a pristine wetland along the Tuscarawas River about 50 miles south of Akron, covered 6.5 acres, the commission said, “coating wetland soils and vegetation with bentonite clay and bore-hole cuttings.” A video provided by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency showed drilling mud a foot or two deep.
Energy Transfer Partners has asserted that the spills of nontoxic drilling mud, used to cool and lubricate drilling equipment, were inadvertent and had been predicted in its permit application to build the Rover gas pipeline. The horizontal drilling is done to place pipelines well below ground to minimize the chances of contamination of rivers or wetlands.
However, the FERC said that its staff has “serious concerns” regarding the magnitude of the largest spill, “its environmental impacts, the lack of clarity regarding the underlying reasons for its occurrence, and the possibility of future problems.”
It said that the largest spill was “several orders of magnitude greater than other documented inadvertent returns for this project.”