Permits

Company Presses Forward on Plans to Ship Fracking Wastewater via Barge in Ohio River, Drawing Objections from Locals

A major dispute is brewing over transporting wastewater from shale gas wells by barge in the Ohio River, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

On January 26, GreenHunter Water announced that it had been granted approval by the U.S. Coast Guard to haul tens of thousands of barrels from its shipping terminal and 70,000-barrel wastewater storage facility on the Ohio River in New Matamoras, Ohio.

“The U.S. Coast Guard approval is a significant 'win' for both GreenHunter Resources and our valued clients,” Kirk Trosclair, Chief Operating Officer at GreenHunter Resources, Inc., said in a statement announcing the Coast Guard's approval. “Our ability to transport disposal volumes via barge will significantly reduce our costs, improve our margins and allow us to pass along savings to our clients.”

Outraged environmental advocates immediately objected to the news.

Despite the thousands of comments from residents along the Ohio River opposing the risk of allowing toxic, radioactive fracking waste to be barged along the Ohio River, the Coast Guard quietly approved the plan at the end of 2014,” said Food & Water Watch Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello.

The Coast Guard is risking man-made earthquakes, drinking water contamination, leaks and spills. This approval compromises not only the health and safety of the millions who get their drinking water from the Ohio River but will increase the amount of toxic fracking waste that will be injected underground in Southeast Ohio.”

But the company's announcement was in fact made before the Coast Guard completed its review of the hazards of hauling shale gas wastewater via the nation's waterways – a process so controversial given the difficulty of controlling mid-river spills and the unique challenges of handling the radioactivity in Marcellus shale brine that proposed Coast Guard rules have drawn almost 70,000 public comments.

GreenHunter's move drew a sharp rebuke from Coast Guard officials. 

Exclusive: Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.

But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water. 

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”

It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.

“In general, the EPA memo does a good job of making clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act, and that proper discharge permitting is required, including setting limits to protect water quality standards and to comply with technology based standards in the Clean Water Act,” explained Clean Water Action attorney Myron Arnowitt, who was asked by DeSmog to review the document. “It is mostly an increased level of detail for regional EPA staff regarding permitting issues under the Clean Water Act, compared to the pervious memo in 2011.”

The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.

Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.

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