Ohio EPA says diesel fuel in spilled drilling mud.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it found diesel fuel in the drilling mud Rover Pipeline builders spilled in a local wetland in April.

With the discovery, the state EPA raised the proposed penalty against Rover to $914,000 and ordered the pipeline company to monitor groundwater around the spill area and near a quarry where workers have been disposing drilling mud in pits.

The quarry is near a well owned by Aqua Ohio, a company that supplies drinking water to some 40,000 customers in Stark County.

“The water has been tested by Aqua Ohio and it was clean as of today,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said Thursday. “We’ve also taken samples of private water wells and we will demand that Rover continues to do that to make sure, in the abundance of caution, that their water is safe.”

Test results are pending on samples taken from 11 private water wells.

Pipeline project

Dallas,Texas-based Energy Transfer is building the $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline across Ohio, including parts of Stark, Tuscarawas and Carroll counties. The interstate pipeline will carry natural gas produced by wells in the Utica and Marcellus shales.

Where Rover's route crosses highways and rivers, construction teams drill a path beneath the obstacle.

Workers drilling beneath the Tuscarawas River south of Navarre on April 13 inadvertently released 2 million gallons of drilling mud into 6.5 acres of wetland.

The spill — one of several environmental violations — prompted FERC to suspend other Rover drilling projects and the commission ordered Rover to have an independent third-party contractor analyze all drilling activity at the Tuscarawas River site.

On Thursday, FERC told Rover to preserve all records related to the composition, acquisition, preparation and disposal of the mud.

In a joint statement, Acting FERC Chairman Cheryl A. LaFleur and Commissioner Colette D. Honorable said they were troubled by indications that diesel fuel was in the drilling mud, which went against commitments the company made to gain FERC’s approval for the project.

“We are fully cooperating with both the FERC and the Ohio EPA on this important issue,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel wrote in an email. “At this time, however, there is no evidence that the source of the hydrocarbons is related to our drilling activity.”

Anonymous tip

Butler said Rover assured EPA the drilling mud contained only water and clay, but the agency found diesel in an initial sample from the spill site and got an anonymous tip from a person who claimed to have witnessed diesel fuel being added to the mud during drilling.

That prompted more testing late last week that revealed diesel fuel in unused drilling mud, in mud released in the wetland and in mud in the quarry pits, Butler said.

“We found very, very low levels,” Butler said.

The state has ordered Rover to stop using the quarry for disposal and will make the company remove the existing mud.

Meanwhile, Aqua Ohio is watching its nearby production wells. The company supplies customers in all or parts of Massillon, Hills & Dales, North Canton, Green, and in the townships of Jackson, Lake, Lawrence, Perry, Plain and Tuscarawas.

“In addition to our normal testing we are analyzing additional samples taken from source water wells, finished water and other relevant materials to make sure that our water supply remains safe,” said Aqua Ohio spokesman Jeff La Rue. “Our sampling indicates no presence of the contaminants in our water which is in concurrence with the OEPA results.”

If customers have questions about their water, they can call the Aqua Ohio customer service line at 877-987-2782, La Rue said.

Environmental groups have called for an immediate halt to construction on the pipeline.

“It’s clear that Rover cannot protect everyday Ohioans and our waterways or the company is not interested in doing so,” said Jen Miller, director of Sierra Club Ohio. “The Sierra Club calls on FERC and Gov. Kasich to protect us by stopping all construction.”

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: shooverREP