Fracking Wastewater Transport Gets Industry Support, Environmentalists Concerned

Nov 8, 2013

The U.S. Coast Guard’s proposed policy change to allow the transport of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on rivers has some environmental groups voicing opposition, citing safety concerns. The Kentucky Waterways Alliance says the wastewater might be too hazardous.

KWA Executive Director Judy Petersen said the wastewater would be too hard to contain in the event of an accident.

“Especially if you’ve got liquid waste and you’re transporting it on the water and something were to happen,” Petersen said. “Whether it’s catastrophic or it’s some sort of slow leak or whatever. It’s not like you can contain it. I think that’s a huge concern.”

But an advocacy group for the barge industry says transporting the wastewater isn’t as hazardous as it sounds. American Waterways Operators spokesperson Ann McCulloch says many everyday commodities are already being transported on the nation’s rivers without incident.

“If you look at other cargos that barges carry regularly and routinely and in fact make up the bulk of the commerce on the river, it’s our essential commodities,” she said. “It’s the gasoline that ends up in our cars, it’s chemicals that are needed for manufacturing facilities, it’s fertilizer that our farmers need. And so we feel we are carrying all of this safely and efficiently right now.”

McCulloch said the river towing industry has a culture of safety it can rely on to get the job done correctly.

“But it’s also safety of the public and the environment,” she said. “When you ecapsilate all if this it really points to a safety culture and a safety record that our industry is very proud of.”

McCulloch went on to say transport by barge is safer than by train or truck.

“We really feel that we’re uniquely positioned to carry the shale gas wastewater as we carry many sensitive cargo safely and efficiently and under the close regulation and supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard,” she said.

Peterson said while the KWA currently has no formal position on the proposed policy, she has been in contact with many regional environmental groups and they are looking into how they will respond to the issue. She said there is an inherent concern throughout the region about the policy.

“This is not good stuff to be transporting all around,” Petersen said. “You know I think there’s always concern when you’re transporting hazardous and radioactive materials.”

Both Petersen and McChulloch said if the wastewater is allowed to be transported on the river it should be done with double hulled barges and with significant oversight

The Coast Guard is currently taking public comments on the proposed change, which ends on November 29th.