The increased discussion of the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) for pipeline construction warrants a discussion of what exactly bentonite is and what it is used for. Let us take a moment here to shed light on exactly what bentonite is.
Bentonite is a benign and naturally occurring substance. According to owner and president of Geo Logic Environmental Services Bill Godsey, “some news reports describe the release of bentonite clay in a way that makes people think of oil spills, likely because much of the general public is, understandably, not deeply educated about common construction practice. An inadvertent release of bentonite occurs when the pumped clay gets into a fissure underground. The pressure pushes it out and sometimes the fissure leads to the surface or to a body of water just like any other liquid in the ground.” Godsey further stresses that, “the release of non-toxic bentonite is nothing alarming, or even unusual, in infrastructure construction – in this case pipelines. One reason bentonite is used is because it is safe and non-toxic so that when there are discharges, there is no long-term impact to the environment.”
Construction can be messy, from highways to pipelines. The release of bentonite clay during HDD activity in pipeline construction is not uncommon, which is why pipeline companies and regulators develop plans for how to respond and mitigate such events. Moreover, HDD is commonly employed in pipeline construction in order mitigate the impact of construction on environmentally sensitive areas – such as rivers, streams, and wetlands. The alternative, of dry-ditch open cutting, can have more lasting impact on sensitive areas. HDD is the industry standard to protect sensitive resources, and bentonite is used because it has no long-term impact to the environment when discharges do occur.
When confused, don’t spurt out misconceptions – ask and ground your opinion in fact.