In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / StateImpact PA

Mariner East 2 pipeline spill prompting underwater inspection, ‘no wake zone’ at Raystown Lake

  • Marie Cusick

Divers taking soil samples from the bottom of Raystown Lake in Huntington County are doing so as part of an inspection along the Mariner East 2 pipeline route, at the request of state environmental regulators.

They are following up on a spill that occurred December 20, 2017.

“There was an inadvertent return at Raystown Lake,” said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Neil Shader. “There is an ongoing investigation to see if there are any drilling mud at the bottom of the lake.”

An inadvertent return happens when pipeline workers drill horizontally underground, and the drilling mud they’re using leaks. According to DEP,  Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of pipeline builder Sunoco, spilled 25-30 gallons of drilling fluid into Raystown Lake in December.

Shader said “there is nothing wrong with the pipe itself” and it is already installed, but the divers, who are contractors for Sunoco, are checking to see if there are impacts to the lake.

“DEP requested that we take sediment samples to verify our initial findings that were obtained using a remotely operated vehicle that there has been no change to the bottom of the lake as a result of our construction activities,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger wrote in an email.

The inspection has led to  a ‘no wake zone’ for boaters, affecting recreation at part of the lake from July 9 through August 3. The 8,300 acre lake draws approximately 1.5 million visitors annually and is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Dillinger initially said the diving was part of the pipeline construction work, but later asked for a correction, saying it is part of an inspection requested by DEP.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline is planned to carry natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia. The project has been plagued with numerous technical and environmental problems throughout its construction — including spills, sinkholes, and legal disputes.

While drilling mud is considered industrial waste, it is typically made up of bentonite, a natural clay used in cat litter, that is not chemically hazardous. However, it can affect water quality by creating turbidity, or cloudiness, which can adversely impact plant and animal life.