Three Mud Spills in PA Creek from Laser Pipeline Construction

Laser Northeast Gathering recently broke ground is quickly working to complete a new 30-mile shale gas pipeline, called the Susquehanna Gathering System, that spans much of Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania and crosses the southeast corner of Broome County in New York State where the pipeline will connect to the larger Millennium interstate pipeline (see this MDN story).

But Laser is having troubles with drilling underneath Laurel Lake Creek, a waterway considered to have “exceptional value” by the PA Department of Environmental Protection. In the span of just a few weeks, drilling under the creek resulted in three separate incidents of non-toxic drilling mud being spilled into the creek, the latest incident occurring on Monday.

A third spill muddied a high value Susquehanna County stream on Monday, the day state regulators allowed construction of a major natural gas pipeline to resume after two spills in five days halted the operation.

Drilling mud – a mixture of bentonite clay and water – erupted through natural weaknesses in rock and soil as subcontractors for Laser Northeast Gathering Co. were boring a path for the pipeline under Laurel Lake Creek on July 29, Aug. 2 and Monday.

Laser told state regulators that an estimated 1,400 gallons of the mud spilled and all but 35 gallons were recovered during the first two incidents. Operations at the site along Snow Hollow Road were shut down on Aug. 3.

When boring resumed on Monday, an unknown amount of mud surfaced in the creek and was recovered – an incident called an "inadvertent return" by industry – according to Laser officials.

Laser’s director of pipeline engineering services Kevin Marion said the boring under the creek was designed "excessively deep" to try to avoid the problem, but the Susquehanna County terrain has led to inadvertent returns "more often than any other place I’ve ever worked."

Sometimes the gaps underground seal themselves, he said. In the case of Laurel Lake Creek, new seeps have appeared farther downstream as each is plugged.*

After Phase 1 of the pipeline between Susquehanna and Broome counties is complete, Laser plans to build Phase 2, which will expand the pipeline system southwest into Wyoming County where it will connect to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

*Wilkes-Barre The Citizens’ Voice (Aug 10, 2011) – Third spill at pipeline site sullies Susquehanna County creek

  • Anonymous

    Laser and the majority  gas companies attempt to cross streams, wetlands, and other sensitive areas with the “horizontal directional drill” or HDD method. Almost anywhere else in the country, this method works perfectly, but not in the fractured cobble stone of Pennsylvania. The bentonite clay and water mixture called drilling mud is pumped in to hold the hole and provide lubricant for the drilling, reaming, and pipe pull steps. The ground conditions lead to “frac outs” when the mud finds voids and fractures to seep through. All projects that I’ve been involved with demand a mud recovery program in case of a frac out.

    What the media never mentions is,during an “open cut” of a stream or wetland, this same mud in bag form (looks like a bag of concrete) is required by State regulations, to be used to build a breaker or dam on each side of the stream/wetland installation to prevent ground water from traveling the length of the pipeline and seeping in to the stream or wetland area.

  • Jim Willis

    Thanks for updating us on how it works. Very useful! – Jim

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