NW Natural Cleans Up Bentonite

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – The cleanup is underway in Corvallis, after a drilling lubricant was released into the Marys River.

NW Natural is working on a nine-mile gas pipe installation project. On Aug. 15, while a contractor was working for NW Natural, bentonite, a clay-like substance, seeped into a portion of the Marys River near Pioneer Park.

“In order to drill through rock and soil, they usually add a drilling material that makes it easier for the drill to function,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife District Fish Biologist Elise Kelley. “And that is called bentonite.”

NW Natural says it uses bentonite because it is a natural product without any additives. Melissa Moore, a spokesperson with the company, says bentonite is in many products such as wine, lipstick, and cat litter.

Since the release of the substance, NW Natural says the drilling mud has settled to the bottom of the river, but the company has fenced the area off, containing the bentonite.

“There’s no hazard at all for humans,” said Kelley.

However, the ODFW says the clay-like substance suffocated wildlife living at the bottom of the river.

“What we found was for the most part, that invertebrates were not surviving within the containment area compared to the amount that were surviving outside of the containment area,” Kelley said.

Moore says NW Natural has resumed its work in the area.

“We have been closely monitoring it ever since to make sure no more releases have occurred and they have not,” she said.

NW Natural submitted a cleanup plan, which the ODFW approved.

“NW Natural gas has been very responsive and very cooperative,” Kelley said. “We all just want to remove the bentonite from the river.”

NW Natural is subcontracting a cleanup crew to remove the bentonite starting Monday.

“One of NW Natural’s core values is environmental stewardship,” Moore said. “And everyone who works at the company really cares about the environment and we’re all very committed to bringing about a positive resolution to the situation. We live and work in the area, and we care about it.”

The ODFW says it anticipates the cleanup to take four to five days.

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