The cause of spills from a drilling operation in Ohio County, WV, that damaged a house and entered a creek are now under investigation, state officials said.

More than 6,000 gallons of water and a non-toxic clay mixture called drilling mud entered the basement of a house in Valley Grove, WV, last week.

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Drilling mud from a MarkWest Energy operation also entered Little Wheeling Creek twice last week, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise. About 30 fish – mostly minnows – died in Little Wheeling Creek when drilling fluid pushed up through cracks in the creek’s bed.

The drilling operation is part of MarkWest Energy’s pipeline infrastructure in Ohio County.

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Aluise described drilling mud as a non-toxic clay mixture with bentonite as its main ingredient. It lubricates and cools the drill bit and transports rock fragments and cuttings from the drilling area to the surface.

Aluise said drilling mud entering a creek through cracks in the creek bed is not an unusual occurrence. “In the industry they call it inadvertent return,” he said.

Aluise said after the fluid entered the stream, MarkWest crews used sand bags to dam the area and create a pool containing the mud to prevent it from flowing downstream and into Wheeling Creek.

MarkWest will conduct a stream remediation after the complete the drilling, Aluise said.
MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale said the company is working to minimize the potential for such incidents. McHale said the company also trying to determine how drilling mud entered the house.

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