DEP issues citation against MarkWest

VALLEY GROVE – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday cited MarkWest Energy for allowing a substance known as “drilling mud” to infiltrate Little Wheeling Creek, creating “conditions not allowable in state waters.”

About 30 minnows, crayfish and other aquatic life died in the accident, DEP spokesman Tom Aluise said.

Aluise said more than 6,000 gallons of drilling mud entered the creek through cracks in the creek bed. He described drilling mud as a non-toxic mixture with bentonite as its main ingredient, used to lubricate and cool the drill bit and to transport rock fragments and cuttings from the drilling area to the surface.

A sub-contractor for MarkWest had been drilling about 40 feet under the stream last week when the drilling mud seeped into the creek through what is known in the industry as “inadvertent return.”

Aluise said the violation is for the inadvertent return of drilling fluid into the creek and not for a separate incident last week where drilling mud flooded and destroyed the home of Becky and John Wieczorkowski.

MarkWest Energy spokesman Robert McHale said the company is, “committed to operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

“When operational incidents occur, we immediately self-report to state regulators and work cooperatively to resolve the issue,” McHale said. “We remain in close contact with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and are continuing efforts to resolve any outstanding issues. There is no higher priority for MarkWest than the safety and protection of our employees, the environment and the communities where we operate.”

Aluise said after the fluid entered the stream, MarkWest crews used sandbags to dam the area and create a pool containing the mud to prevent it from flowing downstream and into Wheeling Creek.

Aluise said MarkWest has 20 days to provide a written response to the DEP detailing what actions will be taken to abate the violation order. He said the violation could lead to possible administrative settlements, which may include a fine.