Ohio officials: it will take decades for wetlands to recover after major pipeline fluid spill

The state has fined the company behind Dakota Access $430,000 for wetlands destruction.

In this April 20, 2017 photo, a sign opposing a proposed pipeline sits in the front yard of a house in Green, Ohio. The town has hired a law firm to stop the pipeline from being built through the community. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dake Kang
In this April 20, 2017 photo, a sign opposing a proposed pipeline sits in the front yard of a house in Green, Ohio. The town has hired a law firm to stop the pipeline from being built through the community. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dake Kang

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.

ETP denied any wrongdoing in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

“We have placed a great deal of focus and importance on our construction and mitigation efforts,” a spokesperson said. “We are not out of compliance with any of our permits. It is unfortunate that the Ohio EPA has misrepresented the situation and misstated facts in its recent comments.”

ETP said the discharge “is a mixture of naturally occurring bentonite clay and water and is safe for the environment… Bentonite is commonly used in a variety of household products that we use every day such as beer and wine, sugar, honey, creams and lotions, baby powders, laundry detergents and hand soaps.”

The company also said that clean up was nearly complete. “We do not believe that there will be any long-term impact to the environment,” the spokesperson said.

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.

FERC did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment Tuesday.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include statements from Energy Transfer Partners.