DEP shuts down Laser pipeline in wake of spills

Published: August 13, 2011

The State Department of Environmental Protection has shut down the construction of a major natural gas pipeline in Susquehanna County.

Scott Perry, director of DEP's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, said Friday afternoon that Laser Northeast Gathering Co. "has been told we are idling their rigs until at least Monday" when Laser can meet with DEP Secretary Michael Krancer and create a plan on how to proceed.

Mr. Perry said DEP had received complaints of at least four spills in the high-value Laurel Lake Creek in the vicinity of Snow Hollow Road in Silver Lake Twp. since July 29.

On Wednesday, drilling mud - a mixture of bentonite clay and water - erupted again through natural weaknesses in rock and soil as subcontractors for Laser Northeast Gathering Co. were boring a path for the pipeline.

Similar spills took place in Laurel Lake Creek on July 29, Aug. 2 and Monday.

It is not clear how much mud spilled or was recovered from the latest spill. Laser did not return calls Friday afternoon.

Laser had referred to previous incidents as "inadvertent returns." Kevin Marion, Laser's director of pipeline engineering services, earlier this week acknowledged the difficulty with the Susquehanna County terrain has led to inadvertent returns "more often than any other place I've ever worked."

Mr. Perry estimated that closing down all 25 rigs on the Laser project in Susquehanna and Wayne counties would cost the company about $600,000 a day.

DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni said that the drilling mud used is nontoxic and there is no indication that the earliest spills impacted drinking water or aquatic life.

A biological survey is under way to document whether there was an impact.

The 30-mile Susquehanna Gathering System will transport gas tapped from the Marcellus Shale through Susquehanna County and Broome County, N.Y., where it will connect with the Millennium interstate pipeline. The project has been under construction since February.

Laurel Lake Creek is part of the Silver Creek watershed, which includes Salt Springs State Park.

Portions of the watershed have been determined to have "exceptional value" by DEP - the designation for the state's most pristine streams and one that carries extra protections from environmental harm.