Don’t let fracking waste be shipped on our waterways!

A letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the permit application for a barge unloading and pipeline facility in Meigs County, Ohio

Context:

The proposal by GreenHunter, a Texas-based frackwaste company, is to build a barge off-loading facility on the Ohio River in Portland, Meigs County. The dock would unload as much as 1 million barrels, or 42 million gallons of frack waste at once. After storage in aboveground tanks, the waste will be trucked to injection wells around the region. Barging of liquid frack waste has not been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, which received as many as 60,000 public comments opposing the proposal.

The dock proposal has not been given official notice in state or local media. The online notice posted by the Corps June 27 specifies that public comments must be hard copies and received at the Corps’ Huntington office by July 28, which has, due to over 340 comments submitted, been extended to Aug. 24. Also, a subsequent verbal and written statement by Teresa Spagna, Project Manager with the Corps, assures us that E-MAIL COMMENTS ARE ACCEPTABLE.
(from: Acfan.org)

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Feel free to copy this letter and email it to the address below!
COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO Aug. 24
Please visit Acfan.org for additional information.
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United States Army Corps of Engineers
ATTN: CELRH-RD-N
Public Notice No. LRH-2013-848-OHR
502 Eighth Street, Huntington, West Virginia 25701-2070
Via email to Teresa Spagna, teresa.d.spagna@usace.army.mil
RE: Comments on Sect. 10 Permit Application #LRH-2013-848-OHR (GreenHunter Meigs County Docking Facility)

Dear Ms. Spagna:

I am writing to you to submit my comments regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issuance of a permit to GreenHunter Water, LLC for construction and operation of a barge unloading and pipeline facility in Portland, Meigs County, Ohio, to deliver “bulk liquids” generated by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations to upland facilities.

MEIGSbarges

The location of the planned facility. Click to enlarge. Source: application material.

Based on my research and my continuing observation of this and related topics in the news media and the public discussion, I strongly oppose the issuing of the permit, as I am convinced that a reasonable and impartial cost-benefit analysis shows an undue and high risk for the general populace while actual benefits are rather negligible. As freshwater water supplies are getting more and more scarce due to droughts, industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, withdrawal for industrial purposes, toxic algae, as well as agricultural and private overuse, we cannot continue to allow additional vessel-based transportation, storage, and unloading of large quantities of hazardous fluids on the Ohio River, which serves as a drinking water supply for millions of people downstream of the planned facility.

Specifically, I request a public hearing and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on this matter, owing to its significant, likely or even certain and largely irremediable impacts, especially on public water supplies, water conservation, and air and water quality. Moreover, this project endangers public safety and the needs and welfare of the people throughout the eleven-state region who would all be affected by its potential impacts.

The unloading and storage of vast quantities of highly hazardous, highly flammable, explosive, toxic radioactive chemicals [1] on the Ohio River are a matter of extreme public interest. In addition to chemicals used in the drilling and fracking process, mercury and other heavy metals, high salinity (chloride at up to 196,000 mg/l), radioactivity (for example, EPA reports liquid Marcellus Shale waste to contain radium 226 at concentrations of up to 16,030 pCi/l; the MCl is 5 pCi/L), and hydrocarbons are at significant levels in frackwaste [2].

The current lack of supervision, clear standards, and proper regulation of fracking waste fluids also implies that levels of toxic concentrations can vary widely, depending on a number of factors, such as the type of the well, how much water evaporated from storage ponds before transfer, what type of waste fluids are being mixed together, etc. In a rule proposal of Oct. 30, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard expressed great concern about the unforeseeable variability of toxic concentrations in the fracking waste fluids and admitted the fact that fracking fluids are in fact contaminated with hazardous chemicals and dangerously elevated radioactive isotopes [3]. This means, even though the industry claims that (on average) the fracking fluids are harmless, these fluids are in fact hazardous, dangerous, and toxic. Moreover, the same fluids coming from a different industry than oil and gas, would be considered hazardous materials and would be strictly regulated with regard to transportation, handling, and storage.

Despite these clear avowals, the Coast Guard failed to propose appropriate and enforceable rules and standards that would protect the waterways from the harm that may result from the transport of vast quantities of toxic and radioactive waste fluids by barges. As a letter by the public charity organization Otsego reveals, the Coast Guard proposal ignored a number of risks and problems, including illicit dumping of fluids, lack of a chain of custody, lack of testing requirements, lack of public access to testing results, lack of clear survey and inspection standards, lack of clear definition of key terms, lack of an Environmental Impact Statement or Assessment, etc. [4].

Indeed, it is far from rare for accidents to happen on these barges. Recent serious oil spills due to barge accidents include a Jan 27, 2013, spill in Vicksburg, Miss., a Feb. 22, 2014 spill between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and a March 23, 2014, in Texas City-Galvaston, TX. Fracking wastewater is too hazardous to risk shipping by such an unreliable method. If spilled, this waste would contaminate the drinking water of the 3 million people who get their water from the Ohio River, and it would also flow into the Mississippi, with the potential for more widespread contamination.

Additionally, no protocols exist for dealing with unknown chemical mixtures. For instance, on Oct. 3, 2011, a massive fire destroyed the fracking chemicals producing Magnablend plant in Waxahachie, TX. The investigation revealed inadequate safety measures, including the lack of an appropriate worst case scenario and of clear documentation of the hazardous materials. The recent June 28, 2014, week-long Monroe County frackpad fire included chemicals for which testing protocols are not even developed. How can downstream water suppliers know whether these chemicals are in their systems if there are no testing protocols yet available? How can firefighters know how to handle emergencies? The C-8 poisoning, Elk River chemical spill, Toledo water crisis, and Opossum Creek 70,000 fishkill disasters are all ongoing disasters that would be dwarfed by the scale of disaster that could occur at the planned barge unloading and pipeline facility in Meigs County.

The GreenHunter Meigs County Docking project has no significant benefits to the region while posing significant risks for the health and well-being of our population and the environment. Its reasonably foreseeable detriments are of great public consequence and must be considered in a public hearing and an EIS.

I look forward to notice from you of further opportunities for public comment and public hearings in communities that would be affected by this proposal.

Bernhard Debatin
Athens, Athens County, Ohio

[1] See for example U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Minority Staff, Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing (April 2011), identifying 750 chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, including 29 chemicals that are known carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as Hazardous Air Pollutants; US General Accountability Office, Information on the Quantity, Quality, and Management of Water Produced During Oil and Gas Production, GAO-12-56, January 2012; PADEP “Permitting Strategy for High Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Wastewater Discharges,” April 11, 2009;Warner, N.R. et al, , Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania
, Environ. Sci. Technol.,2013(47):11849–11857 (pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es402165b)

[2] New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Regulatory Program, Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs, September 2011, Table 5.9; Appendix 13; Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D., Radioactive Waste Management Associates, “Comments on Marcellus Shale Development”, October 2011; USEPA letter from Shawn M. Garvin, Regional Administrator to The Honorable Michael Krancer, Acting Secretary, PADEP, 3.7.11; US General Accountability Office, Information on the Quantity, Quality, and Management of Water Produced During Oil and Gas Production, GAO-12-56, January 2012.

[3] “Pursuant to 46 CFR 153.900(a) and (c), under certain circumstances a bulk liquid hazardous material may be transported by a tank vessel if it is a “listed cargo” (listed in any of several specified tables in Coast Guard regulations). SGEWW, however, cannot be treated as a “listed cargo” because the specific chemical composition of SGEWW varies from one consignment load to another and may contain one or more hazardous materials as defined in 46 CFR 153.2, including radioactive isotopes such as radium-226 and radium-228. Variables affecting the chemical composition of SGEWW include the chemicals present in the initial drilling fluid, the specific site being drilled, and the age of the well. In addition, each load can be a mixture of SGEWW from different wells.” (from: https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-25628)

[4] See Otsego 2000: “Comments In Opposition To U.S. Coast Guard Proposed Policy Letter: Carriage Of Conditionally”, Nov. 26, 2013; from: http://www.otsego2000.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Otsego-2000-Comments-in-Opposition-to-Coast-Guards-Proposed-Policy-Letter.pdf

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