Ohio officials say it will take decades for wetlands to recover from two million gallons of spilled drilling fluid.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has told Energy Transfer Partners — the same company building the Dakota Access Pipeline — that it owes the state $430,000 for “inadvertent” damage to pristine state wetlands.
Last month, construction on the 800-mile Rover pipeline discharged more than two million gallons of a clay-like substance used for drilling into wetlands in a rural area about an hour south of Cleveland.
“It’s a tragedy in that we would anticipate this wetland won’t recover to its original condition for decades,” Ohio EPA spokesman James Lee told ThinkProgress. “And had [ETP] more carefully followed best practices and been prepared to respond to the bentonite release, this likely would not have occurred on the scale that we are dealing with now.”
Last week, the state sent a proposed order, requiring a contingency plan to prevent future spills and outlining penalties.
At the time, ETP said bentonite is “a nontoxic, naturally occurring material that is safe for the environment” and denied that the discharge was dangerous. The company also contends, according to a letter from the Ohio EPA to federal regulators, that the state lacks the “authority to enforce violations of its federally delegated state water pollution control statutes.” It does not deny that the spill occurred.
The permitting process for pipelines crossing state boundaries is complicated and involves input from states as well as numerous federal bodies, including, depending on where the line goes, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which serves as the lead agency.
Ohio EPA director Craig Butler has sent a letter to FERC asking for the agency’s support in holding ETP accountable.
“In light of Rover [ETP]’s restarting drilling operations today, and Rover’s position that the state is without any authority to address violations of environmental laws, we are asking FERC to review the matter and to take appropriate action,” Butler wrote Friday.
Butler also pointed out that, in addition to spilling bentonite, the company has engaged in “impermissible open burning,” and air pollution violation. He told the Washington Post that ETP’s response to the violations was “dismissive” and “exceptionally disappointing.”
These are exactly the kind of incidents and actions that worry environmentalists who are trying to stop pipelines going through sensitive areas. ETP’s Rover pipeline is just one of the myriad natural gas and oil pipelines that are under construction in the United States. Improvements in hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling have spurred a boom in natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale basin under Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as an uptick in Oklahoma and Texas, which were already big oil and gas producers.
When finished, the Rover pipeline will bring 3.25 billion cubic feet of gas each day from the region through West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan to Ontario, Canada.
Neither FERC nor Energy Transfer Partners responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment Tuesday.
Ohio fines company behind Dakota Access $430,000 for wetlands destruction was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.