By SCOTT JOHNSON
LOCK HAVEN - Between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons of synthetic drilling mud was spilled at a natural gas drilling site near Queens Run in Gallagher Township late last month, but no harm was caused, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"There were no impacts to any surface water, creeks, springs, ponds, private or public drinking water wells or any wetlands," said Dan Spadoni, community relations director at DEP's northcentral regional office in Williamsport.
He explained there are different kinds of drilling mud. Some are petroleum based and pose a potential threat to the environment. The synthentic mud that was spilled is "definately not as potentially harmful," he said.
"About 50 percent of the spill left the well pad and traveled down into the woods for about 100 feet," Spadoni said. "There were no impacts to any surface water, public or private wells or any wetlands."
The spill came from a drilling site run by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. of The Woodlands, Texas.
Matt Carmichael, spokesman for Anardarko, said the synthetic mud is comprised of barium sulfate, lime, calcium carbinate and water, and has no hazardous or toxic components, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administation Material Safety Data Sheet.
"In most cases, it's effectively commercial grade vegetable oil," Carmichael said.
He said the company understands operating in lands owned by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a privilege and it is continually conscious of the environment.
"We have a responsibility to protect the environment and we are very sorry about the spill. It should not have happened," he said.
Both he and Spadoni said the spill was caused by human error, with a valve on a tank accidentaly left open.
"We restored the area to the regulations of the DEP and DCNR," Carmichael said, adding the firm hired a contractor, Minuteman, to clean up the spill. "We immedicately reported the release and immediately acted to begin the clean-up process, which started (that day).
"That process was conducted 24 hours a day over a two-day period. That area has been completely cleaned up and remediated."
Spadoni said Minuteman excavated the synthetic drilling mud and some of the soil on which it spilled. That was then taken to a landfill for disposal. The firm then brought in new topsoil and planted grass.
Carmichael said after Anardarko self-reported the release, it took actions to ensure it does not happen again.
"We strive to operate our wells in an environmentallyresponsible manner in all of our operations and continue to evaluate our operations to make sure they are in environmental compliance with all regulations," he said.
The spill, Carmichael said, was in an active drilling operation, which was shut down while the clean-up took place, and is one of four rigs running in the Clinton-Lycoming-Centre County region.
The DEP sent Anadarko a notice of violation letter, but has not determined if or how much of a civil penalty the firm will face.
The agency did not send out a press release of the spill. Spadoni said DEP only issues press releases if there is "imminent danger" to the environment.
"That wasn't the case here," he said.
Typically, mud is used to clean and cool the drilling bit. It then carries the crushed or cut rock to the surface before being pumped back down the hole and re-used.