News Feature | December 3, 2013

Moving Fracking Waste By Barge Under Consideration

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The U.S. Coast Guard is considering a proposal that would allow fracking wastewater to be transported on barges. But many environmentalists oppose the idea.

The Coast Guard proposed the letter on Oct. 30 and asked for comments by Nov. 29. More than 1,000 were submitted.

“Dozens of comments have been submitted urging the U.S. Coast Guard not to go forward with a proposed policy letter that would allow barge owners to receive a Certificate of Inspection endorsement and transport shale gas extraction wastewater by barge from northern Appalachia via inland waterways to storage or reprocessing centers and final disposal sites in Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana,” reports Environmental Protection.

Though the Coast Guard did not mention environmental concerns, it did bring up "the threat to barge workers," according to the Pittsburgh Times Tribune.

The Coast Guard said it will "allow barge transport if companies analyze the chemicals in each shipment, keep radioactive particles below set levels and limit workers’ exposure to gas venting from the tanks."

The idea is not new. "For several years, the federal government, under its powers to regulate interstate commerce, has mulled authorizing the proposal. For decades, merchants have used rivers, especially the Ohio, to ship commodities of all kinds, including steel, grain, minerals, coal, oil, gas and chemicals," the Vindicator reported. 

The upside for locals is truck traffic could drop. 

"With 98 percent of all the brine generated or entering Ohio disposed of in injection wells, and few options in Pennsylvania to do the same, proponents of the proposal say it will help facilitate movement of the waste to other states and reduce the truck traffic on roads in Pennsylvania and Ohio," the Vindicator reported.

But environmentalists are not really seeing an upside. Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment told the Vindicator that this is not really an improvement.

“Transporting drilling waste by truck leads to increased air pollution, risks accidents and spills, puts undue pressure on local roads and infrastructure; transporting this waste by barge in our nation’s rivers is unnecessarily risky,” she said.

The challenges presented by wastewater, including treating it and moving it, present big costs for oil and gas companies. 

"Wastewater is a huge problem for the fracking industry. It’s produced when the water that frackers pump into the ground returns to the surface — contaminated with fracking chemicals and also with toxic substances that naturally linger deep beneath the soil," Grist reported

As the Pittsburgh Times Tribune put it, wastewater "is a big business in modern shale drilling."

"Millions of gallons of water go into wells to crack underground rocks — hydraulic fracturing — and release gas, and companies spend millions of dollars to recycle that water for new wells or to ship it, often several hundred miles away, for safe injection underground," the report said.

For more fracking news, visit Water Online.


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