This Pipeline Spilled Almost 150,000 Gallons of Waste And It's Not Even Running Yet

Rover Pipeline left this water muddy from its construction in July 2017. Photo: AP
Rover Pipeline left this water muddy from its construction in July 2017. Photo: AP

Before a pipeline can spill any oil or gas, it must be built. During that process, however, a different type of spill can happen—one that spews not fossil fuels but drilling liquid instead.


Now this has happened in Ohio, where the Rover Pipeline, one of the latest projects from Energy Transfer Partners—yes, the same company behind the contested Dakota Access Pipeline—spilled 146,000 gallons of this industrial waste near the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The spill was discovered by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency a week ago on January 10, but the implications continue today.

The liquid was lost into a hole being drilled under the river. During a pipeline’s creation, drilling fluid—usually made up of bentonite, which is just a natural clay—is used to lubricate the drill as it breaks ground. However, if the equipment encounters a crack, crevice, or something much larger, the drilling fluid can flow into those spaces, potentially endangering nearby bodies of water.

“Ohio EPA is in continual communication with Rover concerning these concerns, and the agency is determined to fulfill our role in protecting human health and the environment,” James Lee, the EPA’s media relations person, told Earther.

Because the liquid has not yet surfaced, Energy Transfer Partners does not consider the loss of the drilling fluid a spill, said Alexis Daniel, public relations specialist for the company, in an email to Earther. “We are continuing to work through the process,” the email read.

Since the fluid has not yet surfaced, the Ohio EPA doesn’t yet know where it’ll end up. It certainly has an idea, though. The 713-mile-long interstate natural gas twin-pipeline project—set to run through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan—suffered a similar mishap in April 2017 in the same spot as this most recent one. That time, 2 million gallons of this industrial waste surfaced on wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River. The area became full of mud and deteriorated the wetland’s water quality, according to regulatory filings the Sierra Club received.


As Lee explains, the naturally occurring mud is no good for water bodies when it’s released at these levels. “Certainly, that’s going to suffocate whatever living things are in that wetland,” he told Earther. When this liquid tests positive for diesel—as it did in April—it can also pose health risks to the nearby groundwater used for private wells.

On January 11, the state EPA wrote a letter to the energy company voicing concerns surrounding the project:

Based on past practices and inadvertent returns at this site, and the manner in which they occurred, Ohio EPA has significant concerns for the potential of similar releases as occurred at this location in April of 2017. We are deeply concerned this second drill under the Tuscarawas River is heading towards a similar outcome, which resulted in the previous release to the environment.


Construction on the pipeline began in March 2017. Since then, Energy Transfer Partners has been responsible for at least nine accidents involving this environmentally destructive sludge. This doesn’t even include the other environmental violations the company’s responsible for related to the $4.2 billion pipeline.

All these spills and incidents forced Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine to sue Energy Transfer Partners in November for its reckless pollution. It also caught the attention of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which launched an investigation in June regarding the diesel found in the pipeline project’s drilling fluid. In December, FERC announced it will be reviewing its natural gas pipeline policies for the first time since 1999.


The project is supposed to finish by the end of this quarter, according to Reuters. Then, the line will be fully operational, expecting to pump 3.25 billion cubic feet of gas a day. If the pipeline’s experienced these type of incidents before completion, one can’t help but wonder what will happen once it’s operational.

In November, the Keystone Pipeline spilled at least 210,000 gallons of crude oil in South Dakota, which focused public attention to the issue of pipeline safety. As High Country News highlighted, however, this is far from a rare occurrence: Crude oil pipelines saw more than one spill a day, on average, over the last two and a half years.


These numbers don’t even include gas pipelines like Rover’s. They sure are a good indication, however, of the kind of environment under which these projects operate.

Update 1/19/18: This post has been updated to include a comment from Energy Transfer Partners, where it clarified it does not consider this incident a “spill” because the 146,000 gallons of lost drilling fluid has not yet surfaced. So no spill to see here—just loads of lost muddy shit. NBD.


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


C.M. Allen

Just remember: corporate profits are more important than your future, your health, your home, your food, your air, your water, than *you*. That’s your Great America.