Just What Is Rolling on the River?

WHEELING – With so much focus lately on what’s stored alongside the region’s waterways in tanks, some folks may not realize there are thousands of tons of compounds, chemicals and even grains being shipped through our region via barge.

Locally, a proposal by GreenHunter Water to barge frack waste remains pending, as the U.S. Coast Guard, which is the permitting agency, is considering allowing transport of such fluids via barge.

While people continue to protest the frack waste barging proposal, other chemicals used in industry already are being moved via barge on the rivers. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during 2010, barges were used to ship 1.6 million tons of sulfuric acid, 315 million tons of petroleum products and 2,000 tons of radioactive waste.

The barges typically are labeled and the containers are equipped with a mailbox welded to the front of it where shipping papers about the load are kept, said Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency director.

On a side note, one of the nation’s largest barge operators, American Electric Power River Operations, last month announced it had received the first of its 20 new tank barges that the company said will be used to transport liquid chemicals used in agriculture and petroleum production on rivers starting Feb. 20.

“Entering the liquid cargo market means we can offer our customers a more complete range of services,” said Keith Darling, president, AEP River Operations.

“We are bringing the same commitment to safety and environmental performance to the transport of liquid products that we’ve offered for dry commodities for the last 41 years. Our new liquid barge fleet will exceed the safety standards commonly found on 10,000 barrel barges.”

Jasmine Chopra-Delgadillo, U.S. Army Corps public affairs specialist, said the Corps labels commodities shipped on the river into 10 categories. According to the latest data available in 2012, coal, petroleum products, crude petroleum, aggregates, grain and grain products, chemicals, non-metallic ores and minerals, iron ore, iron and steel products were transported on the Ohio River through our region.

“Within established guidelines and in accordance with laws, certain chemicals can be and are transported by vessel through our nation’s rivers including the Ohio River. In 2012, these chemicals included nitrogenous fertilizer, inorganic elements, oxides, halogen salts, sodium hydroxide, potassic fertilizer, organic compounds and others,” she said.

During 2012 within 50 miles of Wheeling, in both directions, 43 million tons of coal were shipped; 1.7 million tons of crude petroleum and petroleum products; 5.9 million tons of aggregates; 250,000 tons of grains and grain products; 775,000 tons of chemicals; 600,000 tons of non-metallic ores and minerals; 1.6 million tons of iron ore and steel and steel products; and 600,000 tons of “other” materials.

“Examples of things lumped into the ‘other’ category are processed food products, certain mechanical equipment, and alcohol and tobacco products,” she noted.

In total, about 9.5 million tons of chemicals were transported on the river in 2012: 1.514 million tons of nitrogenous fertilizer; 1.444 million tons of alcohols; 888,000 tons of benzene and toulene; 845,000 tons of inorganic elements, oxides and halogen salts; 645,000 tons of sodium hydroxide; 571,000 tons of potassic fertilizer; 499,000 tons of fertilizer and mixes; 353,000 tons organic compounds; 301,000 tons of ammonia; 274,000 tons of carboxylic acids; 53,000 tons of acyclic hydrocarbons; 42,000 tons of inorganic chemicals; 39,000 tons of metallic salts; 24,000 tons of chemical products; 19,000 tons of phosphatic fertilizer; 2,000 tons of radioactive materials; and 1,000 tons of starches, gluten and glue.