Momentum Reveals a 2nd Bentonite Spill

DEP issues driller a draft consent order

Morgantown Dominion Post
9 November 2012
By Ben Conley

On Aug. 30, M3 Appalachia Gas Gathering System, known as Momentum, inadvertently released an inert, clay-based drilling lubricant into Dunkard Creek.

Momentum has confirmed that on Oct. 2, a second, much larger bentonite release occurred in the creek, upstream from the first.

According to Dave Mashek, of Meinert/Mashek Communications, a public relations firm representing Momentum, the August incident “released 700 gallons of bentonite drilling fluid into the creek and the Oct. 2 incident, 4,500 gallons.”

Cleanup following a release entails containing the spill with sandbags and pumping the cloudy water from the containment area into tanks or tanker trucks.

Following the initial spill, Momentum left the cleanup infrastructure in place — pumps, vacuum trucks and storage tanks — to handle incidents. This strategy intensified following the second release, Mashek said.

Since the August spill, he said, “we have maintained several containment areas from which the nonhazardous bentonite drilling fluids have been recovered with vacuum trucks on a 24/7 basis. This [Oct. 2] release was handled in the same fashion as the first, with additional containment areas being installed.”

Mashek said the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was immediately notified once the bentonite was discovered in both spills.

Thomas Aluise, with the DEP, confirmed the agency was notified of both releases, but said he was limited in what he could say because the DEP was waiting on Momentum to return a draft consent order.

“Basically, we issue consent orders as a means to settle issues of noncompliance with the regulated community,” Aluise explained. “If a company has environmental violations, we can draft a consent order with our Findings of Fact and an Order of Compliance.”

Aluise went on to say the DEP is scheduled to meet with Momentum in a few weeks in an effort to reach a settlement or allow the company to dispute any of the findings, Orders of Compliance or monetary penalties described in the order.

Once a settlement is reached, the order will be put out for a 30-day public comment period. If a settlement cannot be reached or Momentum refuses to sign the order, other methods, including lawsuits, could be considered.

The releases occurred in separate sites as Momentum attempted to bore a pipeline underneath the creek. That process was completed in mid October, Mashek said.

“This week we completed the boring operation and are preparing to pull the pipe through the bore hole, which will complete our work in and around Dunkard Creek. After the work is complete, we will continue to monitor the creek for any residual effects for at least two weeks,” he wrote in an Oct. 17 email.