Rover pipeline HDD spill investigation

Friday, June 16, 2017

Federal energy regulators overseeing the development of a new interstate natural gas pipeline have announced the opening of an investigation, following the inadvertent release of about 2 million gallons of drilling fluid from a horizontal directional drill operation.

Rover Pipeline LLC describes itself as a new interstate natural gas pipeline that is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/day) of natural gas to markets in the Midwest, Northeast, East Coast, Gulf Coast and Canada.  The Rover project received a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on February 2, 2017, and construction commenced.  The Commission's Order Issuing Certificates included an environmental condition requiring Rover to adhere to construction procedures as described in its application and identified in the Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  As described by FERC, "Rover committed to use drilling fluid composed only of a 'slurry made of nontoxic/non-hazardous bentonite clay and water.'"

On April 13, 2017, Rover alerted the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and FERC’s Compliance Monitor that it had located an inadvertent return of drilling fluid while completing the HDD of the Tuscarawas River.  Two days later, on April 15, 2017, Rover alerted Commission staff of the release. According to a May 10, 2017 letter from Commission staff, the HDD release resulted in the deposition of approximately 2 million gallons of bentonite-based drilling fluid into a state-classified "high-quality" wetland, covering about 6.5 acres of wetland soils and vegetation with bentonite clay and bore-hole cuttings.  Through that May 10 letter, the Commission suspended further new HDD activity on the Rover project.

But the Commission isn't done with its investigation of the incident, according to a June 1, 2017 letter it sent to Rover.  In the letter, Commission staff states that on May 26, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency "notified FERC staff and Rover of the presence of petroleum hydrocarbon constituents, commonly found in diesel fuel, in samples of drilling fluid from various locations near the HDD of the Tuscarawas River."  The letter reiterates Rover's descriptions of the drilling fluid to be used, and the related environmental condition imposed in the Order Issuing Certificates.  It then describes a newly-launched enforcement investigation:
Based on the results of the sampling conducted by Ohio EPA, the Commission’s Office of Enforcement will immediately initiate an investigation to determine the underlying facts that led to the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons in the drilling fluid. Rover is reminded of the data preservation directive in Commission staff's May 10 letter, which includes the requirement that Rover preserve and maintain all documents and information related to the composition, acquisition, preparation, and disposal of the drilling fluid used at Rover's HDD of the Tuscarawas River. We also expect Rover’s full and immediate cooperation with the Commission’s Office of Enforcement regarding this investigation.
Both sitting FERC Commissioners issued a joint statement expressing support for their staff's recent actions on the project:
We are troubled by the Tuscarawas River HDD spill and the indications that diesel fuel is present in the drilling mud utilized for the Tuscarawas River HDD. Although we have no reason at this point to believe the release represents an imminent threat to human health or the environment, this incident raises concerns about potential long-term environmental impacts, including impacts on sensitive wetlands in Ohio. Moreover, the presence of diesel fuel in the drilling mud is inconsistent with the commitments made by Rover on which the Commission relied to certificate its project. We fully support the action of OEP and OE staff to address and investigate these issues.
Further investigation into the Rover pipeline's compliance with its FERC certificate requirements will follow.

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