Opposition to GreenHunter Frack Water Plant Persists

As GreenHunter Water officials prepare to present their site plan for a proposed frack wastewater recycling facility in Warwood to the Wheeling Planning Commission next week, residents who fear for the safety of their drinking water again brought their concerns to City Council.

“You’re sitting in those chairs because the good people of Wheeling elected you to them. … The decisions you make or don’t make will impact many other people than in just Wheeling,” Warwood resident Robin Mahonen told council members during their meeting Tuesday.

Mozart Road resident Erin Bowers also presented council members with copies of a 2011 U.S. Geological Survey study on the presence of radium in fracking wastewater. The study states radium levels are higher in produced water from the Marcellus Shale compared with other shale formations in the Appalachian Basin.

Although drilling waste set off radiation alarms more than 1,000 times at Pennsylvania landfills during 2012, neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nor the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection consider radioactive material in that waste to be dangerous.

GreenHunter officials stress they are not seeking to discharge water into the Ohio River, but to treat water for reuse at other well sites or for disposal at deep injection wells. However, opponents of the plant – some of whom have formed a group calling themselves the “Wheeling Water Warriors” – are concerned about the potential for spills just a little more than a mile north of Wheeling’s water treatment plant.

Despite continued pressure from Warwood residents, Wheeling officials question whether they have the authority to keep the plant from locating in the city, noting the treatment of wastewater is a permitted use in an industrial zone. One possible point of contention between the city and GreenHunter Water, however, is the company’s proposed use of docking facilities that are separated from the main site by the Wheeling Heritage Trail, a strip of land that is zoned residential.

The company has an easement it believes gives it the right to use an existing pipe that runs beneath the trail to load water onto barges for transport, but city officials contend GreenHunter Water would need a zone change to use the docks, which would require council’s approval.

But barge loading isn’t yet part of GreenHunter’s site plan because the Coast Guard and other federal agencies have yet to decide whether to allow transport of fracking wastewater on inland waterways. Company officials have said they will proceed with the Wheeling facility regardless of that decision and simply move the water by truck if necessary.

Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge said city officials have been invited to tour GreenHunter Water’s plant in New Matamoras, Ohio, on Thursday morning, and the Wheeling Planning Commission will meet to review the company’s Warwood site plan at 6 p.m. Monday.

Delbrugge, who represents Warwood, has been an outspoken opponent of the planned facility since the company announced its acquisition of the former Seidler’s Oil Service Property on North 28th Street in March.

“It was interesting. … I’m still not sure how I feel about it,” she said of a recent tour of that site. “I learned a lot more that I didn’t know … and I’m just glad they were willing to meet with us.”

In other business, council approved a $692,000 revision to the current fiscal year budget and voted to accept several state grants. Following that meeting, council’s Development Committee met, voting to recommend Charles Schlegel’s request to have the former Salsa Cafe declared a redevelopment site, allowing him to sell beer there despite the building’s proximity to homes, parks and other businesses that sell alcohol.