July 27, 2008

State, Local Officials Probe Brine Spills

By Victor Skinner, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Jul. 27--KALKASKA -- State and local investigators continue to search for suspects responsible for a large brine water discharge in Kalkaska County, an incident investigators believe may be linked to another recent spill.

The results of test samples taken from a field along Wood Road east of U.S. 131 has narrowed the source of the substance to calcium chloride brine with hematite.

"It definitely tells us it was not produced brine -- it's a drilling fluid," said Rick Henderson, a district supervisor with the state Department of Environmental Quality in Cadillac.

"There are probably a dozen or so wells that use ... this brine" in the area, he said.

The brine, essentially salt water that contains other compounds, killed vegetation near a yard owned by the local oil drilling and heavy equipment operation Arrow Energy Services. The company reported the incident June 21.

Kalkaska County Sheriff's deputies also are investigating the case and don't believe Arrow is responsible. Investigators currently have no solid suspects, Henderson said.

The Wood Road dumping was one of two that recently occurred in the area.

DEQ officials are working to clean up a similar mess found off Boardman River Road in the Pere Marquette State Forest near South Boardman. John Freeman, of South Boardman, reported the 15-square-foot dead area in mid-June.

"I hunt right where they dumped," Freeman said. "It makes you (angry) because it's killing the trees all around."

DEQ Environmental Quality Analyst Nick Swiger collected soil samples at the site last week.

"At this point my first priority is to try and protect human health and the environment. I ... did request some emergency funding to try and get some of this removed," said Swiger, adding that clean-up costs likely will run between $15,000 and $25,000.

"If we get some kind of indicator parameters we might be able to see if the two are related. That would be about the best thing we got at this time," he said of the tests.

Arrow officials spent more than $10,000 last month to remove about 150 yards of contaminated soil from the Wood Road site, said Lee Jenkins, Arrow truck manager.

Illegally dumping brine can be a felony offense, depending on the amount and circumstances of the discharge. Those responsible could also face restitution costs for the clean up.


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