Protecting Clean Water for Our Area

Editor, News-Register:

The recent contamination of the public drinking water supply of 300,000 of our West Virginia neighbors should be a slap in the face and a wake up call to everyone in Warwood, Wheeling and the Ohio Valley. The proposed GreenHunter plant, like the Freedom Industries plant, is sited a mere 1.2 miles upriver from the main water intake for all of Ohio County. It is not safe to site industrial plants such as this along waterways that provide drinking water, and the Ohio River is the primary source of water for over 5 million people.

Despite the “all clear” from our public officials, downstate water is still not safe, and numerous people have become sickened by drinking or bathing in this water. The company involved did nothing to help the victims of this contamination, (they were apparently too busy filing for bankruptcy so they could continue to function under another new name and avoid liability) and the government has already stopped the distribution of water to the affected areas, leaving people to cope with this as best they can. This stark reality affirms what Wheeling Jesuit Professor Dr. Ben Stout has repeatedly said on this matter, “Wheeling is on its own.” Our public officials are doing little, if anything, to protect our residents from possible risks, and have welcomed this company with the blindness associated with possible economic benefits.

The Wheeling Water Warriors have been told they are fearmongering and crying “wolf,” and are nothing more than Chicken Little’s screaming that the sky is falling. Well, this is no fairy tale, this is reality, and the proverbial sky has fallen on us with a resounding toxic splash. We can not afford to allow our water and air to be put at risk for the economic benefits promised to us by a company with no ties to our community, and an already tarnished financial record.

I attended the informal meeting of GreenHunter and our Ohio County Department of Health, and would like to share some observations. Mr. Jack repeatedly stated that the materials coming in to GreenHunter facility are “non-hazardous.” We would like to point out that this is true only because the Hallliburton loopholes exempt them from this classification for purposes of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and these were ushered into law by previous Vice President Cheney, in order to facilitate the operations of this industry, and Halliburton, which is heavily invested in the fossil fuel extraction industry. Mr. Jack went to great lengths to distance his company from Freedom Industries, saying that they “aren’t even the same industry.” We disagree, as they are both fossil fuel extractors, and both coal and fracking have proved disastrous to our environment in many areas. In fact, the chemical involved, crude MCHM, is used to wash coal, but is also one of the ingredients in the fracking cocktail of thousands of chemicals which are injected into the earth as part of the fracking process. When asked about legal and financial problems related to his company, Mr. Jack acknowledged that the same CEO presides over GreenHunter as the Magnum and Triad companies who have been in court for violations. Mr. Jack stated that GreenHunter is “working closely” with the U.S. Coast Guard to develop policy for the barging of frack waste on interstate waterways. Isn’t that like the fox guarding the henhouse? Can we really trust this industry to regulate itself?

Last summer, I called Tom Connelly, to ask if GreenHunter was required to post a bond with the City of Wheeling, and he said, “Why would we do that?” I expressed concern about companies who bring frack waste into a community, go bankrupt, and then leave open pits of toxic waste, which then has to be cleaned up by taxpayers. Our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania have had this experience. At any rate, as of this date, NO bond is required of GreenHunter before they open up this facility for fracking wastewater. In the meeting, Mr. Jack stated that they “have insurance.” We would like to know the limits of this insurance. Look to Kanawha and other counties in the affected area, and consider the extent of the damage, which is estimated to be in the billions; would GreenHunter’s insurance policy come close to the costs associated with a spill?

Last summer, the Wheeling Water Warriors and FACT-OV appeared before the Board of Health to express concerns, and were told the Board lacked sufficient information to make a statement or make a recommendation. In the fall, we presented the Board of Health with binders of multiple scientific and academic studies on the dangers of fracking to our environment and public health, and we are pleased that they issued the statement: “The concerns of the public have been validated.” We were later alarmed to see that their preparation for this informal meeting included the statement that they are there to “help GreenHunter.” Nowhere in the health department’s mission statement is anything said about “helping” an outside industry. Their primary mission is to safeguard the health and well being of the people of Wheeling and Ohio County, NOT to help an outside company of an industry which endangers public safety and well being.

Following the meeting, I asked Dr. Mercer what monitoring, “assessment” and “policy development” they would be working on related to this issue, and he responded, “None.”

There are better, safer ways of generating power that do not involve fossil fuels, among them solar power, wind turbine power, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric power. Despite popular misconceptions, solar has become much more affordable to the average homeowner, and following initial installation, basically allows one access to free energy for the next 25-30 years, with no fears about how much the price of fossil fuels might rise. Proud West Virginians love to stand on their own two feet, and solar power can free them to do so. Despite popular misconception, fossil fuel extraction only accounts for eight-tenths of one percent of all jobs in West Virginia. Many of those jobs are easily transferred to solar and wind installations. Why do we risk so much, for so little in return? Economically, solar energy provides more jobs per kilowatt hour than coal, oil, or gas, and those are safe jobs, no risk of explosions, spills, collapsing mines, or exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation, and little to no risk posed to a community’s water and air.

Despite what you may have heard, this plant is not a “given” yet. Don’t roll over and let this company endanger you without a fight. We ask you to contact your public officials and demand that they look out for your safety and that of your family. If you are concerned about this issue, join the Wheeling Water Warriors on Facebook, as we continue our efforts to insure clean, safe water in our community. May you never thirst!

Robin Mahonen

Wheeling Water Warriors