A local disposal company says transporting brine from fracking operations in Pennsylvania to New Matamoras by barge is a better method than trucking, but the U.S. Coast Guard must sign off on it first.
Some people are concerned about the risks of moving the wastewater on the Ohio River, but John Jack, vice president of business development for GreenHunter Water, a division of Triad Hunter in Reno, said the process is safer and better for the environment.
"For every one barge accident, there are 2,100 accidents by truck," he said. And "just think of all the emissions you're saving."
GreenHunter Energy leases a site on Ohio 7 south of New Matamoras to keep the material in before taking it to one of the company's Class II injection wells. Bringing brine to that facility by barge instead of truck will significantly reduce wear and tear on roads, he said.
"Every one barge tow removes 1,050 trucks from the road," he said.
The Coast Guard, which regulates the nation's waterways, will have the final say on whether it's allowed.
"It may be hazardous," Commander Michael Roldan, chief of the Coast Guard's Hazardous Material Division, said in a December Associated Press article, stressing the word "may."
In hydraulic fracturing, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is used to "fracture" shale formations deep underground and release the oil, natural gas and other minerals within. The water that comes back up can be more than six times as salty as seawater. Although mostly water, the AP says the waste liquid can also contain heavy metals, natural radioactivity and some of the chemicals used.
Jack said the water GreenHunter transports is tested extensively and is non-hazardous.
"We don't have any radioactive materials," he said. "We do heavy analyticals."
Jann Adams, a member of the local Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group, has reservations about moving brine on the river.
"(There) is always a possibility of accidents, no matter what you do," she said. "A spill on land is one thing, but a spill on water ... that would just be monumental."
Roldan told The Associated Press there is no timetable for a decision on allowing brine transportation on barges. It's undergoing "a higher level of review" than requests to transport other individual chemicals or substances, since fracking wastewater can contain a mix of natural and man-made compounds that vary by well, he said.
For now, trucks are still bringing about 3,000 barrels a day of wastewater produced in hydraulic fracturing to the New Matamoras site, Jack said.
Adams also expressed concern about what is in the wastewater, since drilling companies often claim proprietary information to shield precisely what chemicals are in fracking fluids.
Jack said the fluid is no longer proprietary when GreenHunter takes possession of it, and it is tested by the company to determine what is in it. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also does periodic, unannounced testing of brine trucks, he said.
"They are governed. They are looked at," Jack said.
Jack added that 80 percent of the water GreenHunter has transported in the last month-and-a-half has been nothing more than rainwater that collected at mining sites.
A number of hazardous materials are already transported on the river, Jack said. The oil and gas industry should simply be treated the same under existing rules, he said.
The impact of increased heavy truck traffic on local roads has been another concern related to the recent shale boom. Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said that while companies involved in horizontal drilling must work out arrangements to repair damage to roadways, there isn't a requirement like that for trucks hauling brine. That's because their loads do not exceed state limits.
"With the injection wells, they're all legal loads, so the state hasn't stepped in," Wright said.
GreenHunter's switch to barges likely won't have much impact on county and township roads, he said, since the storage facility is along Ohio 7. The trucks traveling to injection wells from the site would likely make more use of those roads, Wright said.
"The ideal situation would be if there was some sort of pipeline so there wouldn't be any trucks on the township and county roads," he said.
Wright said he welcomes the oil and gas industry in the area, but is just looking at logical issues that arise from the increased traffic.