Along with the opportunity for economic improvement the shale boom has also brought the increased potential for environmental hazards to Columbiana County and the surrounding area.
Two spills involving drilling fluids occurred within a week of each other recently in the area where a gas transportation pipeline is being laid under wetlands on the County Farm property in Center Township.
The spills totaled 25,000 gallons and occurred Oct. 24 and Oct. 31, according to Mike Settles of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, who said the OEPA was advised within hours of each spill by Oklahoma-based Access Midstream, the company installing the pipeline.
The two spills did not involve a dangerous substance, but what caused concern among local officials was failing to be notified of the situation.
Willie Brantingham, information officer for the Local Emergency Planning Committee told county commissioners the county did not learn about the situation until the second spill occurred. At that point it was a member of a community group, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, who notified the county of the spill - not someone with Access Midstream or the contractor, DRS Drilling.
Brantingham said he spoke with someone at the worksite and the man was surprised to learn the county had not been notified.
The county LEPC is charged with responding to all hazardous spills in the area, and in most cases, should be the first agency notified.
Brantingham said, although in this case the substance was determined to not be hazardous, not being notified in the instance of a hazardous spill could be disastrous.
In response to this, county Engineer Bert Dawson has agreed to insert a page into the permits packet contractors receive in his office when they are planning to drill, explaining the process for notifying the LEPC of a spill. This sounds like a good place to start.
Experts say our area is experiencing only the very beginning of this shale boom, so there are going to be many first occurrences for a lot of situations. We need to be sure these are used as learning opportunities to help put safeguards in place for potential future problems.