EPA to Have a Say on Frack Barges

WHEELING – GreenHunter Water wants to ship natural gas frack wastewater via barges from its proposed Warwood site, but several federal agencies must first sign off on the plan.

“No organization has authorized this material to be transported by barge,” said Carlos Diaz, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency tasked with overseeing shipments on inland waterways such as the Ohio River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard are among the agencies that would need to approve before frack waste could be transported on barges. Diaz said other agencies involved in the discussion include the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget.

Diaz said he could not provide any time frame for when, or if, frack waste will be allowed to be transported by barge, but he said there could be public hearings regarding the matter if the federal agencies deem them necessary.

According to Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, GreenHunter also may need a zone change to use the docks extending out into the Ohio River from the former Seidler’s Oil site it purchased. The company plans to eventually launch about one barge per week from these docks.

Connelly said the Wheeling Heritage Trail and these docks are now zoned for residential use, rather than industrial use, meaning the company would need to have the zoning changed before it could barge the frack waste.

John Jack, GreenHunter Water’s vice president of business development, disagrees.

“We have a utility easement for the pipeline to service the facility and barges,” he noted.

The main site of GreenHunter’s project is already zoned for industrial use. Connelly anticipates this project coming before the Wheeling Planning Commission at its June 10 meeting.

Jack believes the Ohio Valley will benefit from his company’s project because it will reduce the amount of truck traffic on roads that are not designed to handle the large water trucks used by the oil and natural gas industry.

Jack contends there is less chance of an accident – which could lead to a spill of frack water – on the river compared to roadways.

Though GreenHunter’s recycling process removes suspended solids from the frack water, Jack admits trace amounts of chemicals and salts will remain in the water. Though radium and uranium are considered radioactive, he said these elements will be minuscule in volume.