Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Energy Tranfer Partners to temporarily stop any new pipeline construction that involves drilling underneath rivers. The Ohio EPA believes this is a step in the right direction but does not resolve the overall dispute with the pipeline company. And the company is refusing to pay a $430,000 fine for multiple spills of millions of gallons of drilling fluid.
Workers with the Ohio EPA are trudging through a thick, grayish-brown sludge in Stark County. What was once a protected wetland has been turned into one giant mud pit. They're surveying the aftermath of a large spill during the construction of the Rover Pipeline. Crews use this mud to burrow a tunnel underground, making way for the pipe to be laid down later. But during construction, something went wrong and more than 2 million gallons of this clay-like material surged to the surface.
“See all you have is mud, no drilling bits,”as Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler explains. He says this is just one in a series of mistakes made by the Rover Pipeline project. “We have just seen a pattern of non-compliance and where we think they’re rushing and they’re not paying attention to even the best management practices.” has racked up a big list of violations for Energy Transfer Partners, or ET
A pattern of non-compliance
That pattern includes EPA citations for more than a dozen violations so far, on a pipeline that just began construction three months ago.
The violations include:
- Polluting reservoirs, streams and creeks;
- More drilling mud spills in other wetlands found in Belmont County and Tuscarawas County;
- Open-burning brush near a home in Jefferson County without permission.
Butler says "They’re not taking Ohio seriously, the requirements that we have for environmental protection and protection of public health.”
An odd turn
Here’s where things take an odd turn. Butler says usually, with other companies, the EPA will send a notice of a violation, issue a fine and that company complies: End of story. But that’s not the case with ETP.
According to Butler, the pipeline company has been defiant while disregarding Ohio’s authority as a regulatory agency. And the $430,000 fine? Butler says, so far, Energy Transfer Partners won't pay it.
“They have refused to enter into negotiation with us because they say the state of Ohio does not have the authority to issue this fine and/or penalty.”
Bad rep or bad rap?
The pipeline company fired back at the Ohio EPA, rebuking claims that it is out of compliance. The company argues that all their permits for this construction go through federal regulators.
The company turned down a request for an interview, but a spokesperson said in a statement that Butler’s comments have “misrepresented the situation and misstated facts.”
Jen Miller with the Sierra Club’s Ohio Chapter is bothered by this whole series of events, from the violations to the company’s attitude towards state regulators.
“The way they are constructing this pipeline is downright dangerous.”
She says Energy Transfer Partners already has a bad reputation around the country.
Miller agrees that the Ohio EPA does have the authority to regulate the pipeline project. But she wants the state to go a step further and halt construction until Energy Transfer shapes up.
“We should not let a company this rogue, with this many violations, so early in a construction process just continue to have access to 18 counties in Ohio to do even more damage.”
A rare partnership
It’s not every day that the Ohio EPA, under Gov. John Kasich’s administration, finds itself on the same side as environmental advocates. And Butler says his department doesn't issue violations and fines arbitrarily.
“We’ve got a proven track record of supporting economic development particularly in the oil and gas sector, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore the fact that you have to do it and abide by state and federal law to protect public health.”
Butler has reached out to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, for their help on the issue. He adds that, if ETP keeps this up then he’ll ask Attorney General Mike DeWine to step in.
Status of the cleanup
Back in Stark County, ETP is in charge of cleaning up the spill with Ohio EPA monitoring their work. About 60 percent of the mud has been cleared.