Gas and oil drilling crews, along with others who have to bore holes through rock, have used "drilling mud" for generations. It is a compound utilized, in essence, as a lubricant for drill bits and to carry small fragments of rock and other material out of holes being bored.
As we reported last week and Sunday, a MarkWest crew laying a pipeline in the Valley Grove area ran into problems last week. At one point, drilling mud and other fluid from a bore being done by the crew somehow entered an old water well - then gushed into a nearby home.
But our reporter learned the crew also had a problem in boring a hole under Little Wheeling Creek for a pipeline. Natural cracks in rocks under the streambed allowed drilling mud to enter the creek. About 30 small fish were killed.
In all likelihood, the fish were not killed by chemicals in the drilling mud. MarkWest officials say the mud, which contains a substance called Bentonite, is non-toxic. Had anything poisonous entered the creek, the damage probably would have been much worse.
According to a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, such accidents are not uncommon. "In the industry, they call it inadvertent return," he noted.
WVDEP and MarkWest officials do not seem particularly concerned about drilling mud in streams. Still, companies using the material would be well advised from a community relations standpoint to make public exactly what substances are used in drilling mud.
The natural gas and oil industries have had unpleasant experience with public concern about chemicals, such as those used in hydraulic fracturing. If, as the industry insists, there is nothing wrong with drilling mud, there should be nothing wrong with educating the public about what goes into it.