Sep 28


STAMP pipeline drilling goes awry

State environmental officials have cited the Genesee County Economic Development Center for a drilling mishap in a sensitive wetland. It’s the second spill since mid-August.

The state has cited the developers of the STAMP industrial park for violations involving a spill of drilling fluids in a wetland through which it is constructing a sewage pipeline.

Earlier this month, crews conducting horizontal drilling to construct the pipeline through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge encountered sinkholes, causing 100 gallons of drilling fluid to spill into a half-acre area. The drilling fluid consisted of water and clay slurry, made from Wyoming sodium bentonite clay, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

It’s the second such spill since mid-August.

The DEC, in a notice issued Monday, said the spill violated the terms of two permits it had issued to Genesee County Economic Development Center, one for the pipeline and one to dig in sensitive wetlands in the refuge. The agency said it is contemplating fines against the Genesee County EDC. Fines could be as much as $86,000 per day.

In addition to the spilling of drilling fluids, referred to as a “frac-out,” the DEC dinged Genesee County EDC and its contractors for not immediately notifying the correct officials of the incident, as required by its permit. While contractors alerted DEC staff on Sept. 7, the day of the spill, they did not inform the Bureau of Ecosystem Health in a timely fashion. As a result,  drilling fluids remained in the wetlands for more than two weeks, according to DEC’s letter. The agency approved a cleanup plan Sept. 22.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in an August report, said such spills were one of the primary harms the pipeline could cause to the wildlife refuge. Drilling fluid spilled into wetlands can “increase turbidity, change water chemistry, and expose plants and animals to potentially harmful chemicals,” the agency said.

The pipeline for the industrial park — the 1,260-acre Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park — has been the subject of controversy and is currently at the center of litigation between Orleans County and the Genesee County EDC. In addition, local residents and members of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation have raised concerns about the pipeline harming sensitive environmental areas, groundwater and creeks. 

Arguing that Genesee County EDC has pursued eminent domain proceedings illegally in Orleans County, that county filed suit against the economic development agency earlier this month. A State Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked any pipeline construction in Orleans County, although the project has not made it that far yet. 

If completed, the pipeline would travel 9.5 miles from the STAMP site in Genesee County, over the county line, and discharge up to 6 million gallons per day of treated wastewater in the Oak Orchard Creek, in the Orleans County Town of Shelby. That’s downstream of Medina and the Erie Canal.

On Tuesday, the Orleans County Legislature adopted a resolution stating the county intends to protect the Oak Orchard Creek from wastewater discharged via the pipeline.

Donate to support our nonprofit newsroom

While most of the pipeline would lie beneath the right-of-way of Route 63, a portion of that pathway runs through the wildlife refuge, which includes extensive wetlands. 

In its letter Monday, DEC said its agents inspected the spill the following day, but that no one from Genesee County EDC, the holder of the pipeline’s permits, was present. 

The DEC said while it was aware of the spill, the specific division responsible for cleanup, the Bureau of Ecological Health, had not been properly notified by the Genesee County EDC as required by its permit.

The DEC further said its agents inspected the spill again on Sept. 14 and found that no cleanup had occurred.

Cleanup of spilled drilling fluids includes scooping or vacuuming them out the wetland. DEC has approved a cleanup plan for the spill that includes soaking the dried clay and sucking it up into a vacuum truck. Any material that can’t be removed that way is to be scooped out by hand, the agency said. 

In a statement last week, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation reported that a smaller spill of drilling fluids into the wildlife refuge occurred Aug. 15. The DEC allowed drilling to resume after that spill because the drilling fluids were “contained to a roadside ditch and removed by a vacuum truck,” according to the Nation.

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox
* indicates required

Newsletters *

G. DeVincentis and Son Construction Co. was performing the drilling when the spill happened, according to DEC. That firm’s work is being overseen by the engineering company Clark Patterson Lee, which has worked closely with Genesee County EDC to develop STAMP. DEC said it is continuing to monitor the cleanup. 

The Tonawanda Seneca Nation has called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow members to monitor the drilling work.

“The Nation has had concerns that drilling for the construction of the pipeline would be an environmental hazard to the biodiversity and wildlife in the Refuge, which lies within our ancestral territory” spokesperson Grandell Logan said.

The spills, Logan said, caused “some of our fears [to be] realized.”

Neither Genesee County EDC nor its attorney responded to a request for comment. Neither did Clark Patterson Lee or G. DeVincentis and Son Construction Co.

Investigative Post

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox * indicates required

Newsletters *