| WASHINGTON, April 3
WASHINGTON, April 3 The Obama administration is
inching ahead with a plan that would allow wastewater from
fracking to be shipped on barges, fueling a debate whether it is
safer than other transportation modes or risks polluting
The Coast Guard last month quietly sent to the White House's
Office of Management and Budget a proposal to allow the barging
of fracking wastewater. If the plan is pushed forward, it would
become a proposed rule open for public comment and could be
finalized sometime in the near future.
Energy analysts say action on the barge issue could be a
hint at how the Obama administration will approach fracking
regulation in the coming years.
The wastewater is a mix of liquids, including fracking fluid
sent down drilling wells to crack rocks and release gas, and
so-called produced water from ancient formations deep within the
earth that rushes to the surface when natural gas wells start to
Environmental groups worry the fracking waste could make
water unfit for drinking if spilled into rivers by barge
accidents or leaks.
While the OMB will not comment on what is in the plan or
give an estimate on when it could become a rule, the Coast Guard
said late last year it hoped to complete a policy that would
allow drillers to ship the waste via barge.
Companies such as Texas-based GreenHunter Water LLC want to
ship the waste by barge for recycling or for dumping into
disposal or injection wells. Greenhunter says barges are a safer
method of transport than trucks and trains, the current methods
used to move the waste material that the industry calls brine.
Trucks now routinely carry the waste from Pennsylvania, the
center of the natural gas drilling boom in the eastern United
States, for disposal at injection wells in Ohio, where gas
drilling is in its early stages.
James McCarville, executive director of the Port of
Pittsburgh Commission, favors using barges to move the waste.
"We move commodities on the waterways that are much more
complex in terms of their makeup and we have a record of safely
moving them," he said.
Examples of products routinely plowing the U.S. inland
waterways are petroleum products like gasoline, industrial acids
and other chemicals.
Fracking fluid also contains chemicals added by drillers,
while produced water can be laced with heavy metals and radium
or other radioactive materials.
"Safe? I beg to differ," said Melissa English, the director
of development at Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental group.
She said the Ohio River, one waterway where companies want
to barge the waste, is already polluted from a number of
industries. If a barge spills the waste from fracking, it could
be dangerous for cities that depend on the river for drinking
Cincinnati and other large cities have high-tech systems
that could clean the water, but smaller communities lack that
kind of infrastructure, she said.
In addition, encouraging investments in barging could
solidify Ohio's growing role as waste depository.
"It would increase the pace at which Ohio becomes the
fracking waste dumping ground for other areas of the country -
not real appealing," English said.
One concern is that publicly operated water treatment
centers may not be equipped to handle so-called technologically
enhanced, naturally occurring radionuclide materials, known as
TENORMs, which have accumulated in water drawn out of shale
CLUES ON REGULATION INTENT?
Kevin Book, an energy policy analyst at ClearView Energy
Partners in Washington, said if OMB moves forward with the rule
it could offer clues on how the Obama administration will
regulate fracking wastewater in the future.
The Environmental Protection Agency signalled in 2011 that
it could issue rules under the Clean Water Act to regulate
radioactive materials and other pollutants from fracking
"The pending brine rule may offer a first glimpse of whether
- and how - the Obama administration's interagency gas group
could address TENORMs," said Book.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Ros Krasny and