Clay substance spills during Ohio pipeline job

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Environmental regulators worked Thursday to determine the cause of a significant spill of a clay lubricant during construction of an underground pipeline in eastern Ohio.

Southeast Directional Drilling Co. reported Tuesday it had released an unknown quantity containing the lubricant, bentonite, in Harrison County, northeast of the village Cadiz. The spill occurred during construction of the ATEX pipeline, which will carry liquid petroleum products from Pennsylvania to Texas.

The clay substance, which can be used to lubricate cutting tools in drilling operations, ran into nearby Conotton Creek and onto the properties of two homeowners, affecting their private drinking water, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said Thursday. The cleanup was nearly complete, and the company was providing clean drinking water to the families, he said.

“No violations have been issued yet, but they did impact a waterway,” he said. “The agency is investigating all enforcement actions available at this time.”

A message seeking comment from the company was not immediately returned Thursday.

Abbruzzese said bentonite is generally non-threatening to the public, but in large quantities it has the potential to choke out plant life, kill fish and other life in streams and marshes. He said “out of an abundance of caution” the state also was testing the released material to assure it contained no toxins.

“For the homeowners, it’s a nuisance. They didn’t ask for this stuff to be spread on their property or get into their drinking water,” he said. “The bottom line is the state doesn’t want this stuff going where it shouldn’t be going.”

Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners’ ATEX pipeline will extend across 265 miles in Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana, connecting to existing lines.

Construction began this spring. Of 4,000 construction jobs involved, an estimated 1,500 were to be in Ohio.

The spill wasn’t connected to natural gas drilling, called fracking, also occurring in eastern Ohio, Abbruzzese said. The company planned to address the homeowners’ drinking water issues, including possibly drilling them new wells, he said.

Counties where the pipeline will travel include Butler, Warren, Greene, Clinton and Fayette in southwest Ohio; Pickaway, Fairfield and Licking in central Ohio; and Muskingum, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Harrison and Jefferson in eastern Ohio.