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Should Fracking Waste be Barged on Ohio River?

PHOTO: Members of Appalachia Resist! are protesting plans that would allow fracking waste to be shipped by barge on the Ohio River.
PHOTO: Members of Appalachia Resist! are protesting plans that would allow fracking waste to be shipped by barge on the Ohio River.
April 1, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Toxic waste from fracking could soon travel the Ohio River, if the U.S. Coast Guard gives the green light to a proposal by a Texas company. GreenHunter Water, which owns a fracking waste facility in Washington County Ohio, wants approval to ship the waste by barge at a rate of up to a half-million gallons per load.

Environmental groups, including Appalachia Resist!, called it a dangerous idea that could threaten the drinking water source for more than 5 million people. Sasha White, an organizer with the group, explained why.

"Frack waste is showing pretty significant levels of carcinogens, toxic heavy metals, radioactive particles," White said, "and the fact that it has been dispersed in a watery medium makes it particularly frightening that they would be shipping it on our waterways."

According to GreenHunter, barge transport is safer and more cost-efficient than hauling the waste by truck. The Coast Guard is investigating and has not said when a decision is expected.

Some have advised that a safer approach would be to recycle more of the fracking fluids and brine through what is called a "closed loop system." Don Garvin, legislative coordinator with the West Virginia Environmental Council, said the state legislature recently killed a bill that would have made that mandatory in West Virginia. However, he noted, several of the state's largest drilling companies already use a closed loop, because it's cheaper.

"It decreases the amount of water that has to be disposed of and decreases the risks from spills and it facilitates the reduction in waste at a drilling site," Garvin said.

White said environmental groups are also concerned that if the Ohio barge plans are approved, it could encourage more waste to be produced and injected into wells, a practice that has been linked to small earthquakes.

"According to the company that proposed it, one barge could contain the same volume as over 1,000 truckloads," White explained. "If you're able to ship that off to one place, you can increase how much waste you're actually producing."

It is estimated that millions of barrels of fracking waste, often from operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, are injected each year into more than 170 wells in Ohio.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV