From the Associated Press today:
The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking public comments on a proposal that would allow barges to transport shale gas wastewater, a drilling byproduct that can include chemicals, radioactive material and heavy metals.
Some states, such as Texas, have large numbers of underground wells where the wastewater can be disposed. But Pennsylvania — where a recent boom in shale gas drilling is producing tens of millions of gallons of wastewater every year — has only a few such disposal wells.
The Coast Guard is accepting comments until Nov. 29. The official title of the proposal is Carriage of Conditionally Permitted Shale Gas Extraction Waste Water in Bulk.
Extracting the gas trapped in shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. Some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, heavy metals and low-level radiation.
In the past five years, a lot of Pennsylvania shale wastewater has been taken to Ohio by truck or train, and much of it is now being recycled. But the Coast Guard said barge companies are interested in taking wastewater to disposal sites in Texas and Louisiana, too.
Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the industry group thinks wastewater transport via barge can be done in a safe way.
“The Coast Guard is going to move forward in a way that’s responsible,” Creighton said.
But Erika Staaf of the group PennEnvironment said barge transport is no improvement on current methods.
“Transporting drilling waste by truck leads to increased air pollution, risks accidents and spills, puts undue pressure on local roads and infrastructure; transporting this waste by barge in our nations rivers is unnecessarily risky,” she wrote in an email.
Staaf faulted the Coast Guard proposal for not specifically mentioning environmental safeguards, since any spill on rivers such as the Ohio or Monongahela would have major cleanup costs.
According to the Port of Pittsburgh, one barge has the capacity of about 70 large tractor-trailer trucks.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister noted that the agency doesn’t regulate what is carried in barges on waterways. Its priority “would be to insure the safety of drinking water supplies and protection of water quality in rivers and streams,” Poister wrote in an email.
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.