Laser OK’d for drilling beneath creek

BY DAVID FALCHEK, Times-Shamrock Writer

The state Department of Environmental Protection has allowed natural gas pipeline builder Laser Northeast Gathering Co. to resume drilling under Laurel Lake Creek as long as the company complies with certain conditions.

The company’s attempt to bore 1,300 feet under the creek has been plagued by leaks of clay mud. Laser will now have to use smaller drilling rigs, which will reduce the pressure in the borehole. The company will have to construct a temporary flume over portions of the creek most likely to be subject to the mud seeps. The flume would make it easier to capture and remove released mud. Laser will have to submit plans for the flume to the agency, which will review it and Laser’s amended permit, said DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni.

The company has 390 feet to go to complete the bore which goes underSnow Hollow Roadand Laurel Lake Creek. The line is part of a 30-mile collection and gathering system that will connect productive gas wells to an interstate pipeline inNew York.

As Laser continues to build the pipeline through the stream-rich forests of Susquehanna County, the DEP wants it to more carefully evaluate the locations where the pipeline transverses the stream and the process the company uses to bore it.

“Laser will adjust its drilling techniques in a manner that reduced pressure during drilling,”  Spadoni wrote in an email.

Laser Chairman and Chief Executive Tom Karam said the company is committed to completing the 30-mile pipeline in an environmentally sensitive manner.

“The DEP appropriately brought to our attention things we need to re-evaluate,” he said. “These things occasionally occur and we take great care to minimize them. When they do happen, the impact is temporary.”

The mud is a mix of 95 percent water and 5 percent bentonite clay. While benign, the clay can have an effect on life in creeks and streams, said Daniel Townsend, Ph.D., professor of biology at theUniversityofScranton. The tiny clay particles add to the turbidity of the water and can impair the ability of organisms to draw food and oxygen.

“It basically gums up the works of some of these organisms,” he said. The clay creates a bed for the pipeline.

But  Karam said the mud seeps are no different than the impact of a heavy storm which sends runoff into a stream. Directional drilling under bodies of water and sensitive areas is the most environmentally friendly way to site the pipeline, he said, done in lieu of trenching.