Fracking waste doesn’t belong on our waterways

The U.S. Coast Guard is currently considering whether or not to allow the shipping of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on U.S. waterways. GreenHunter Water, a multi-national company who owns several Class 2 injection wells in southeast Ohio, a fleet of trucks for transport of the waste and a storage facility sited in New Matamoras, has proposed to barge fracking wastewater up and down the Ohio River. According to GHW’s estimates each of their barges would carry 10,000 barrels, the volume equivalent of 1050 trucks or almost half a million gallons, of fracking wastewater. The barges could be towed in groups of up to 15 barges.

A spokesperson for GHW stated that “much more hazardous” things are already being shipped on the River and seems to believe that a few more toxins in the water are no big deal. While the fracking industry pooh-poohs critics’ concerns, tests by the EPA and other independent agencies have shown fracking wastewater to contain carcinogens, heavy metals, and radioactive alpha-particles, all in amounts that hugely exceed what is allowable for drinking water or even untreated industrial waste.

The propriety protection of fracking chemicals and their exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act means that in the case of an accident or deliberate dumping (if you think that won’t happen, think about the storm drain in Youngstown), the 5 million people who rely upon the Ohio river for their drinking water won’t even know what to chemicals to be testing their water for! These communities have extensive water treatment plans and emergency funds set aside for mishaps on the River, but their facilities are not equipped to deal with fracking waste. Unlike oil or other hazardous material, fracking wastewater is a cocktail of unknown ingredients that cannot be skimmed from the surface of the water; it disperses immediately and irremediably. Studies show even the smallest parts per billion of certain chemicals in water can wreck havoc on biological systems and alpha-particles are the most toxic form of radiation to animal life when breathed or ingested.

Even if the fracking waste is transported without accident or misdeed, what will barge transport mean for Southeast Ohio? It will mean that our region, touted by the ODNR and industry as having the “safest” geology for the underground injection of toxic waste, will see a boom in Class 2 injection wells. It will mean that every time a barge arrives in New Matamoras those 1050 trucks will be driving on our roads to deliver fracking wastewater. It will mean that our region will receive waste not only from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but likely from Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, from anywhere that has a major waterway near enough for a fracking company to save some money and ship us their waste by barge. It will mean that the dual development of drilling new injection waste wells and new fracking production wells will turn our “safe” geology into a pincushion. The more our geology is opened up and broken up, the more possibility for toxic wastewater to migrate, whether into old mines, old wells, new wells or drinking water.

The Ohio River Watershed has supported human cultures for over 12,000 years and is currently home to 10 percent of the U.S. population. This region includes the most biologically diverse deciduous forest ecology in the world and is home to many endemic and rare species. This region is still recovering and cleaning up from 200 years of industrial extraction, but fracking is not just a regional issue; it is a global issue. Fracking describes itself as being a “clean” energy source, but the “cheap” natural gas it produces is used to extract oil from the tar sands of Canada- a process considered to be the endgame of our climate as we know it. Recent studies in Colorado also found that 4 percent of the methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, produced at fracking wells was leaking directly into the atmosphere. In Utah the figure was 9 percent.

Fracking is no solution to the crises we face as a community, as a country, as a planet. It escalates the risk of climate uncertainty, of drought, of superstorms, of rising sea levels. It industrializes rural and agricultural lands, disrupts and poisons wildlife habitat. Each fracking job requires the extraction, transport and pollution of millions of gallons of freshwater and thus trades profit for the health and well-being of every fish, bird and animal that relies on clean, fresh water for life. Please call the Coast Guards’ Chief of Hazardous Materials, Michael Rodan at (202) 372 1420 and demand that he put the health of our planet before the profit of an industry. Don’t allow the proliferation of fracking, don’t allow the transport of fracking wastewater on our waterways!

Sasha White lives in Athens.