News

Middle Creek impacted by Mariner East 2 pipeline spills

Written by Daniel Walmer/The Lebanon Daily News | Jul 26, 2017 7:58 AM
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Construction for the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline continues on Wednesday, July 5, 2017. (Photo: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- There have been at least four incidents involving spills of "drilling mud" at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area during the construction of Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline, according to a list state regulators recently made public.

That includes the only documented spill in Lebanon County, as well as three in Lancaster County. Each involves a wetlands area.

Drilling mud is a mixture of water and bentonite clay that lubricates drill bits used during pipeline construction. It is used during horizontal directional drilling, a method for placing the pipe under roadways or environmentally sensitive areas where an open trench is not practical.

The drilling mud is considered "non-toxic and is not expected to have any lasting effects on impacted waters of the commonwealth," according to a news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Additives in drilling fluids are limited to those on a state-approved list that meets drinking water standards.

The DEP list provided coordinates for each spill, which the Lebanon Daily News then compared with the boundaries of Middle Creek. All of the spills have been stopped, according to DEP.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was made aware of the spills, spokesman Dustin Stoner said in an email. Each occurance was "promptly detected, contained, recycled, and mitigated," and none caused any "negative or lasting impact to wildlife or the environment."

"Rest assure(d) that the Game Commission will remain vigilant with regards to the protection of our wildlife resources and their habitats at (Middle Creek) during the construction of Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline," Stoner wrote.

Included in DEP's list of drilling mud spills in Middle Creek:

    • About 300 gallons on June 23 in Lebanon County in an area that is designated on the list as a wetlands area.  
    • 25 to 30 gallons on May 13 in Lancaster County on the west side of a wetlands area
    • About 20 gallons on June 9 at the same wetlands area
    • About 25 gallons on June 12 at the same wetlands area        

In a July 19 StateImpact Pennsylvania article, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said drilling mud spills, also called "inadvertent returns," are an expected part of pipeline construction.

"While we have experienced inadvertent returns in a number of drills," wrote Shields in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania, "this is not unexpected as the permit applications submitted and approved by the DEP include, among other requirements, compliance with an Inadvertent Return Contingency Plan, which we have followed by responding and containing those returns to avoid any long-term impacts and reporting them to the DEP.  We have worked in coordination with the DEP to ensure that the environment is protected and will continue to do so."

When completed, the Mariner East 2 pipeline will transport natural gas liquids from Marcellus Shale-rich areas in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia.

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the Lebanon Daily News.

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