By CASEY JUNKINS
NEW MATAMORAS, Ohio - John Jack is confident that GreenHunter Water's plans to store nearly 800,000 gallons of natural gas frack water in the Warwood section of Wheeling will become a reality.
John Jack, GreenHunter Water’s vice president of business
development, shows the
storage tanks the company refurbished upon
purchasing this facility along Ohio 7 in New Matamoras.
He also hopes that once built, the local community will grow to appreciate the recycling facility.
"I am encouraged - it is going to happen," Jack, GreenHunter Water's vice president of business development, said regarding the Wheeling barging and frack recycling plant proposed for North 28th Street at the former Seidler's Oil Service. "Ultimately, the city of Wheeling will benefit from this."
During an interview and tour with the Sunday News-Register, Jack showcased GreenHunter's recycling facility along Ohio 7 in New Matamoras.
"This had been a gasoline storage facility that had been de-commissioned, and had fallen into disrepair," Jack said of the New Matamoras site. "We refurbished the tanks and the building. This is the same idea we have for Wheeling."
During nearly two hours at the site, only a handful of trucks stopped by to unload their frack wastewater. The trucks were relatively clean and quiet, as were the building and tanks.
Strong opposition to GreenHunter's Wheeling project persists, though, as a group of residents calling themselves the "Wheeling Water Warriors" continue collecting signatures of people who oppose the plant. They recently held a protest in Warwood's Garden Park, emphasizing they do not want frack wastewater stored only about a mile north of the Wheeling Water Plant.
Jack realizes some do not support his company's work, as Washington County, Ohio sheriff's deputies arrested 10 people in February for protesting at the New Matamoras facility, including one man who climbed to the top of one of the storage tanks.
"I support the First Amendment," Jack said in recognizing the rights of those opposed to natural gas drilling and fracking. "All I ask is that you (protest) on the other side of the road. They came over here to trespass and commit vandalism."
Though no one is threatening to storm the Warwood property, Jack said his company is "ready to go" in terms of construction, with hopes to be up and running before the end of this year.
"Once we get our two variances approved, we will submit a final site plan," he said of the papers that would go to the Wheeling Planning Commission. "We are moving as quickly as we can."
Plans for Wheeling
Jack said GreenHunter officials are scheduled to appear at 9:30 a.m. Thursday before the city's Board of Zoning Appeals to request two variances. That meeting is scheduled for council chambers on the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Main St.
He said the first variance is a request to reduce the number of required parking spaces from 27 to 13. The second is a request to cover the site's surface with gravel, rather than asphalt.
"Those are not major issues. If they say they want us to have 27, we'll have 27. If they want asphalt, we'll use asphalt," he said.
But it appears as if the city is gearing up for a legal fight with GreenHunter. City Manager Robert Herron said Wheeling leaders believe the company will need to request a zone change to cross the Wheeling Heritage Trail to reach the barging terminal along the Ohio River. Although the main site of GreenHunter's project is zoned for industrial use, the area from the trail to the river is zoned residential.
"We are not going to move anything on top of the trail," Jack said. "The 'clean brine' will travel by pipeline under the trail from our tanks to the barges."
Jack disagrees that a zone change is needed, adding, "We have a utility easement for the pipeline to service the facility and barges."
Jack said his company recycles water for natural gas producers such as Chesapeake Energy, Magnum Hunter, Chevron and others. He said there will be 19 storage tanks at the Warwood site, but emphasized the old rusty tanks left over from Seidler's will be dismantled and removed.
He said the Wheeling facility will operate 24 hours per day every day, though he said "90 percent to 95 percent" of the trucks that come through each day will do so during daytime hours. Though Jack said the number of trucks entering and exiting the facility each day could vary widely, he said a "good daily estimate" would be 30.
Jack believes his company meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards in terms of provisions to control any potential spills, including barriers and catch basins. He said the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will do a "walk-through" inspection once the plant is finished.
Though the 12 full-time workers GreenHunter plans to have on site may seem small, Jack noted the company will also be paying business and occupation taxes and fire service fees to the city.
"Whatever the tax obligations are to work in the city of Wheeling, we will meet those obligations," he said.
After treating the frack water, GreenHunter plans to ship brine water - the vast majority of its volume, according to Jack - by truck back to well sites for re-use. Solid waste would go to a landfill outside Parkersburg, with liquid waste taken by barge for disposal at one of several deep injection wells.
Jonathan D. Hoopes, GreenHunter's president and chief operating officer, has said the Upper Ohio Valley will benefit from his 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. He also said residents need to realize the level of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling is going to increase in coming years, which will result in even more wastewater from drilling that needs transported.
The U.S. Coast Guard continues to review whether fracking waste can be shipped on inland waterways via barge. Jack contends there is less chance of an accident on the river compared to roadways.
"There are hydrocarbons on the river all day long," Jack said in terms of coal and gasoline shipments. "What will be going out on our barges is non-hazardous."
Though GreenHunter's recycling process removes the 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.
Jack said the Coast Guard will eventually allow the Marcellus and Utica frack waste to be barged, noting, "It is not a matter of if, but when."
However, residents need not fear huge amounts of barge traffic, as Jack estimates only one such vessel will leave the Warwood dock each week.