The Columbus Dispatch recently published an opinion editorial by Brigham McCown, a native Ohioan and former head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In the piece, Mr. McCown addresses recent accidental discharges of drilling fluid in Ohio by the Rover Pipeline, discussing the safety of modern pipeline construction methods like horizontal directional drilling as well as the materials used during construction. As he writes:
In recent weeks, a nontoxic substance used to lubricate and cool drilling equipment has escaped in modest swaths along the construction path of the Rover Pipeline in Ohio. While unfortunate, the occurrence is hardly cause for alarm. In fact, officials explicitly accounted for the possibility during the permitting process, and the company in charge of construction has dutifully followed protocol to mitigate any lasting impact.
The “inadvertent return” of drilling mud, as it’s known in the business, is not uncommon. It is the process of a mixture of water and naturally occurring bentonite clay rising through cracks in the soil to the surface. Although the discharge temporarily creates boggy conditions, the long-term effect is more nuisance than consequential. Bentonite poses no known environmental hazard and is present in many household items, including cosmetics, medicines, soaps, and even mineral water.
Mr. McCown goes on to argue that Rover officials handled the situation correctly, communicating openly with regulatory agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that the accidental discharges were properly and rapidly addressed:
Most importantly, project authorities responded to the situation promptly and by the book to control any potentially larger fallout. Rover immediately notified the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission once the leaks were discovered. In tandem with state and federal officials, the company worked to capture fluids at the two sites, and reports indicate at least one is fully contained.
The incidents truly stand monument to the advances industry and regulators have made to preempt and respond to more serious incidents. Of course, no construction method is without its potential downsides, and the accidental discharge should be used to further develop safeguards and bolster public-private partnerships.
Ultimately, projects like the Rover Pipeline remain critical components of the region’s energy infrastructure, meeting energy demands affordably, safely, and efficiently. To that end, it’s imperative to learn from accidents and direct that body of knowledge toward the successful construction and operation of these projects. As Mr. McCown notes:
These resources have positioned us to address energy needs across the country and to move toward energy independence. They are critical to long-term economic growth, in Ohio and nationwide.
To secure the remarkable energy production occurring here at home and to better protect communities and the environment, the United States must continue to invest in energy infrastructure.
Pipelines aren’t perfect; no energy transportation system is. That should not stop regulators and industry leaders from continually working together to find solutions to make them better.
Mr. McCown offers a thoughtful commentary on Rover’s incidental returns, and his concluding statement is worth underscoring: “Incidents like those on the Rover Pipeline should serve as an opportunity to build on what’s working, not to walk the conversation backward.” CEPI anticipates an open, constructive dialogue on the situation moving forward and a complete remediation of any affected areas.