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Excerpt: "The U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the country's waterways, will allow shale gas companies to ship fracking wastewater on the nation's rivers and lakes under a proposed policy published Wednesday."

Industry officials say barges are the safest and cheapest way to move fracking wastewater but a spill would severely contaminate waterways. (photo: Keith Robinson/Flickr)
Industry officials say barges are the safest and cheapest way to move fracking wastewater but a spill would severely contaminate waterways. (photo: Keith Robinson/Flickr)

Coast Guard Proposes to Transport Radioactive Fracking Wastewater by Barge

By Emily DeMarco, PublicSource

05 November 13


he U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the country-s waterways, will allow shale gas companies to ship fracking wastewater on the nation-s rivers and lakes under a proposed policy published Wednesday.

The Coast Guard began studying the issue nearly two years ago at the request of its Pittsburgh office, which had inquiries from companies transporting Marcellus Shale wastewater. If the policy is approved, companies can ship the wastewater in bulk on barges on the nation-s 12,000 miles of waterways, a much cheaper mode than trucks or rail.

The public will have 30 days to comment.

Under the policy, companies would first have to test the wastewater at a state-certified laboratory and provide the data to the Coast Guard for review. The tests would determine levels of radioactivity, pH, bromides and other hazardous materials. In addition, the barges would also have to be checked for the accumulation of radioactive particles that might affect workers.

If the test results meet the limits outlined in the policy, the companies would receive Coast Guard approval to ship the wastewater in bulk. It is unclear whether the barge companies would self-report the test results.

All records outlined in the proposed policy must be held by the barge companies for two years, but would be available to the Coast Guard. Normally, the information also would be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. However, "the identity of proprietary chemicals may be withheld from public release," the policy states.

Environmental groups, academics and the media have tried to get information about the chemicals used in fracking in the past. However, gas drilling companies have refused to release the specific amounts of chemicals they pump underground to release gas from the shale formation.

Benjamin Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, said the part of the policy about proprietary chemicals is worrisome to him because "it-s the easy out."

"All they have to do is say -proprietary information- and they don-t have to do anything" in terms of releasing information to the public, Stout said. (Stout is a board member of FracTracker. Both FracTracker and PublicSource are funded, in part, by the Heinz Endowments.)

The gas drilling industry already is exempt from a laundry list of federal regulations, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

The Coast Guard-s letter accompanying the proposed policy specifically asks the public for comment on the disclosure of proprietary information.

The full policy can be read on the Coast Guard-s website where all public comments will be posted.

"We are required to take in consideration those comments before we move to the next step," said Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for the Coast Guard. "Our role as a regulatory agency is to get it right."

The question of moving the wastewater by barges has been controversial.

Environmentalists said the possibility of a spill that could contaminate Pittsburgh-s rivers with chemicals isn-t worth the risk. But industry officials said barges are the safest, and cheapest, way to move the wastewater.

"Waterways are the least costly way of transporting it," said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, an agency that advocates for waterway transport. "We look forward to being able to get the trucks off the highways as quickly as possible."

Stout counters that the risks on the water are huge.

"If and when there-s a spill, that can-t be cleaned up," Stout said. "That means it-s going to be in the drinking-water supply of millions of people."

One of the companies interested in the policy is GreenHunter Water, which handles wastewater for major oil and gas companies. Jonathan Hoopes, president of GreenHunter, said the company is pleased that the proposed policy has been published.

"Now that we-ve seen the proposed policy letter, it allows us to do the research that we need to do to comply," Hoopes said. "You-ll hear a lot more from a lot larger companies than GreenHunter in the near future about this."

Officials from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents gas drilling companies, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

There is commercial interest in moving the wastewater from Pennsylvania via inland waterways to be stored, reprocessed or disposed of in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana, according to the policy.

If approved, the Coast Guard-s policy could be momentous for the gas-drilling industry, as the amount and transportation of wastewater is seen as a growing concern for both the industry and its critics.

Each barge could transport approximately 10,000 barrels of wastewater over the nation-s waterways.

Steve Hvozdovich, who is with the advocacy organization Clean Water Action, said his group plans to comment on the policy.

"I-m a little disappointed to hear there-s only a 30-day public comment period," he said. "Thirty days is not sufficient in my mind." your social media marketing partner


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+29 # indian weaver 2013-11-05 09:33
F*ck the Coast Guard. Now they can pollute the rivers, streams and shorelines of their transport routes, just like the energy industry destroys the ground, aquifers and rivers with their spills. Just what we needed: another source of despicable behavior by the government because spills and accidents will happen, and the f*cking Coast Guard will be responsible. And in their wisdom, witness BP in the Gulf, these tragic deathly messes will never be cleaned up. Such is the price of a culture based on greed and arrogance, from government, Armed Forces and Energy Industry to death and destruction near you courtesy of these assassins.
+17 # Adoregon 2013-11-05 10:43
Uh, not too fracking bright.
+20 # Vardoz 2013-11-05 11:12
The way corporations are treating our environment is totally irresponsible and they simply don't give a damn because they are just to stupid. It takes a sense of responsibility to make wise decisions and corporations have a bad track record across the world. We live in a finite world that is already filled to the limit with life killing poison.
+8 # indian weaver 2013-11-05 11:23
Corporations are founded upon greed. These masters of the universe are not exactly stupid but they are ignorant. Otherwise their lives wouldn't be founded upon Greed and Arrogance.
+17 # jwb110 2013-11-05 11:32
Once they remove it by ship, then what do they do with it? Isn't that an important part of the question to be asked.
+3 # Old Man 2013-11-05 18:30
Quoting jwb110:
Once they remove it by ship, then what do they do with it? Isn't that an important part of the question to be asked.

They'll take this Fracking waste and dump it in the ocean and watch them say it not harmful sea life or humans.
+10 # motamanx 2013-11-05 11:39
…and they have the former Captain of the Exxon Valdez to pilot it! Why the hell not? The rest of the plan is just as dumb.
+7 # MylesJ 2013-11-05 11:56
When they made that decision two years ago Origin Oil was not yet cleaning up fracking waste. The decision should be based on current technology, not who had the contracts several years ago.
+2 # Walter J Smith 2013-11-05 12:26
If you want to comment, the official rule making portal does not open.

It automatically resets and will not open at all.

Maybe it is too busy, but that is like saying the ACA rollout website was too busy.
+6 # Walter J Smith 2013-11-05 12:32
Of course they want to transport radioactive waste water by barge.

Not only is that cheaper transport; when it spills, it cannot be recovered!

Talk about cheap transport!

The barge captains will be getting commissions based upon who can turn their transporting activities around the fastest.

So the game will soon enough degenerate into who can pump the radioactive wastewater out of their barge while it is being pumped into their barge.

Why not dump it into the harbor?

Who cares where they dump it -- who, that is, among the corporate citizens who pull the strings that tell our elected puppets what to think, do, and say? And how much time to spend on each activity. And where to do, say, & think it.
+4 # indian weaver 2013-11-05 15:21
Here we have typical fascist collusion in industry between "government" and industry. How did these energy companies buy the Coast Guard to do their dirty work? How many Coast Guard corrupt criminals are on the take on this. We are paying the Coast Guard to help industry, right? Where do government and industry separate? The don't anymore. They are one in the same. Don't pay taxes, as starters, unless you want to be a co-conspirator in crimes against the planet with a government that deserves to die, asap. Actually, must die, not just "deserve to die".
+12 # karenvista 2013-11-05 15:25
Well, it will be coming to states like Texas and Louisiana who are owned by the oil industry and the waste will (if it makes it) dumped here.

They say that they will pump it back into the ground (to pollute our remaining aquifers) but that won't necessarily be the case.

The city of San Angelo in west Texas is already drinking radioactive tap water.

I have a friend who was a truck driver hauling waste water from fracking wells and he quit after he was told to dump it in a lake. He also said that people who cleaned the tanks died in some operations because they were made to clean the inside of tanks without safety equipment, so it is dangerous material.

I wouldn't put it past them to dump fracking fluid in the waterways. After all, they are corporations, they won't be regulated according to what we read above. They will "self-report" and maintain records in case some environmental group uncovers a major catastrophe and there are questions that "may" need to be answered afterwards, when nothing can be done to ameliorate the disaster.

If states approve fracking they should be required to dispose of all byproducts of the fracking process within their state boundaries. This is another example of the producer offloading the external costs onto unsuspecting members of the public.

This is disgusting!
0 # Glen 2013-11-06 07:22
karenvista, do you think the MAFIA will take over the disposal? They pretty much control all the landfill in Louisiana. I don't know about Texas. Recycling is a joke pretty much everywhere, too, in that materials are carted off and dumped, rather than actually recycled. Barges have helped in that effort also.

Those fracking barges will slide through the intercoastal waterway and across bays, going where?
+7 # Akeel1701 2013-11-05 15:34
An accident waiting to happen

why not just put it into the Frakking CEO's swimming pools?
+11 # damitch 2013-11-05 16:30
Where is the waste water going? How will it be disposed of when it gets there? How can it be treated/deconta minated if you don't know whats in it? Lots of questions that should be answered but probably never will be. The Republicans are always crying about leaving a debt to our grandchildren, but never worry about leaving them clean air, water and land.
+2 # itchyvet 2013-11-05 21:44
WOW ! Absolutely incredible, excellent example of the idiodicy of U.S. Government Departments and their slavish sycophant behavior.
On the other hand, a slow leak in said barge would solve the problem of disposal, allowing it to leak out, whilst allegedly on it's way to dump location, then on arrival they're empty, (funny that ) then turn around for another load.
I read recently, that the biggest issue facing the World, and in particular the U.S. is the availability of good quality fresh water. I can now see the reasons why this will be. On one hand, we have good water being contaminated after it's been used for fracking, water sources being contaminated by fracking activeties, it comes as no surprise, good water will be in short supply.
+5 # soularddave 2013-11-06 00:31
I have no doubt that shipping this dangerous liquid by barge is the safest method of transport, but it begs the question of "safer for whom?". Its spreading the risk around; externalizing the cost of the whole fracking operation.

Spreading the risk to whom? I drink water from the Mississippi. Do I voluntarily accept the risk?

Hell NO! What would I do if my drinking water is laced with these mysterious compounds and radioactivity? The whole treatment plant would be polluted! Everyone in my City would be put at risk.
+1 # Podrushka 2013-11-07 07:21
Go ahead and study the minutia,it is business as usual and we all know the outcome. Can any "policy" wonks do the right thing and reject these hair-brain schemes? Bad idea and i don't need a two year study to know it.

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