Category Archives: HDD

Drilling Mud Is Apparently Difficult to Control

Sunoco is currently building the Mariner East 2 pipeline through Chester County PA. On July 7, 2017, NPR reported that “Around a dozen Chester County households experienced cloudy water or loss of supply from their private wells this week, forcing some families from their homes near a location where Sunoco Pipeline is conducting horizontal directional drilling about 150 feet below ground for the construction of its Mariner East 2 pipeline.” Some families are now staying at local hotels.

The NPR report continues, “Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said the company is investigating the cause of the water problems in West Whiteland Township, which were first reported to the Township on Monday. The company is now a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners. The company has tested 11 private water wells, and was due to test another nine on Friday to determine whether its horizontal directional drilling (HDD) caused the water problems, Shields said. Although test results had not been given to West Whiteland Township officials by late morning, Shields indicated that HDD was the cause.”

Note that EDP is the company that spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluid in Ohio, causing FERC to curtail work on the Rover pipeline in northern Ohio (see our story on May 11, 2017).

Later in the day on July 7, the Philadelphia Inquirer posted an update, Water-contamination complaints force Sunoco to suspend Chesco pipeline construction. “Sunoco Pipeline LP has suspended installation of its contentious Mariner East 2 underground pipeline near Exton after about a dozen Chester County households complained that the water from their private wells was interrupted or had become cloudy…. ‘Drilling has been suspended as we await test results, which will help determine whether the well problems are related to drilling and, if so, help us resolve the issues,’ Shields said…. Local officials suspect that nontoxic bentonite clay used as a lubricant during the horizontal-drilling process may have migrated into private wells. Bentonite drilling mud is the same material used in cat litter.”

Horizontal directional drilling, using the same bentonite drilling mud, is the process Dominion proposes for drilling under the Blue Ridge at Reed’s Gap.

FERC Blocks Rover Pipeline after Spills During HDD


On May 10, 2017, the Washington Post reported that FERC has curtailed work on the Rover pipeline in northern Ohio after Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) reported 18 leaks and the spilling of more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluid. No new horizontal directional drilling (HDD) may begin in 8 areas where drilling was planned, and the company was told to “double the number of environmental inspectors and to preserve documents the commission wants to examine as it investigates the spills.” ETP maintains that the spills, which they say are of non-toxic drilling mud, had been predicted in their permit application, but FERC said its staff has “serious concerns” regarding the magnitude of the largest spill, “its environmental impacts, the lack of clarity regarding the underlying reasons for its occurrence, and the possibility of future problems,” and that the spill was “several orders of magnitude greater than other documented inadvertent returns for the project.”

Drilling mud a foot or two deep is visible in a video of the wetlands area provided by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Horizontal directional drilling is the process Dominion proposes for drilling under the Blue Ridge at Reed’s Gap.

HDD: A Limited Review by a Company Working for Dominion

[Photo by John Claman:  Piney Mountain,Three Ridges, Reed’s Gap]

On April 17, 2017, the US Forest Service submitted a supplement to a filing made on April 6, 2017, which transmitted Forest Service approval of the primary and contingency proposals for the horizontal direct drilling (HDD) drilling under Reeds Gap and the Appalachian Trail near the sole entrance/exit for Wintergreen. The supplement provides the documents the Forest Service received from GAI, the 3rd-party contractor who conducted the review.

The GAI review should have included – but didn’t – the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) report, A High Risk Proposal: Drilling Through the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Instead of being comprehensive, GAI’s review is limited, stating only, “Based on our review of the geotechnical and geological data provided for the proposed HDD, GAI believes an HDD in this location is feasible.”

DPMC’s Rick Webb says there is, “No real discussion or analysis of the issues or even reference to most of the issues – just an opinion – no reference to the lack of geophysical info for most of the drill-path or the extreme conditions.” The DPMC report on drilling through the mountain includes detailed information on how the HDD could fail, which GAI seems to have ignored, and GAI did not address at all the extreme environmental footprint of the project.

Webb continues, “I expressed concern about an obvious conflict of interest to the Forest Service when I heard that GAI was the reviewer. GAI works for Dominion on the ACP. See: https://gaiconsultants.com/project/atlantic-coast-pipeline-project/

Webb adds, “GAI reps were at the open houses during the EIS scoping period – assuring us of the high-environmental standards and technical capacity of Dominion and the pipeline industry. GAI was also the company that prepared the Erosion and Sediment Control Plans for the recent Stonewall Gathering Pipeline in WV (notable for poor behavior with respect to implementation of the ESC plans on the ground; see http://pipelineupdate.org/2015/08/28/stream-zero/; also in the path of the ACP).”

Note added on April 21, 2017DeSmog reported on April 20, 2017, that after DeSmog’s story linking GAI to Dominion, GAI removed mention of its link to Dominion from its Web page.

Forest Service Satisfied with Feasibility of Reed’s Gap HDD

The April 6, 2017, Richmond-Times Dispatch article reporting on DEQ’s announcement that it will require individual water quality certifications also reported that “the U.S. Forest Service said it is satisfied with the feasibility of [Dominion’s] proposal to drill through the Blue Ridge Mountain to avoid the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway between Augusta and Nelson counties.” Further, “Clyde Thompson, Forest Service supervisor in the Monongahela in West Virginia, told federal regulators this week that the agency has concluded that the use of horizontal directional drilling and a contingency plan for a more conventional drilling method both would be ‘feasible at the proposed location.’ ”

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article here (scroll down to the second half of the article).