Coast Guard seeks fracking comments

PARKERSBURG – The United States Coast Guard, responsible for the regulation of transportation on national waterways, is accepting public comments to a proposal that would allow barges to transport hydraulic fracking wastewater on the Ohio River.

Shale gas extraction wastewater (SGEWW), according to the proposal, is a by-product of drilling for natural gas using unconventional hydraulic fracturing technology, which involves the injection of water, sand and chemical additives.

The sand remains in the well, but a substantial portion of the injected fluid resurfaces after drilling and must be handled as wastewater.

At present, the wastewater is either stored at the drilling site or transported by rail or truck to remote storage or reprocessing centers.

Carlos Diaz, chief of media for the U.S. Coast Guard, said there is commercial interest in transporting SGEWW from northern Appalachia via inland waterways to storage or reprocessing centers and final disposal sites in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana.

“It currently cannot legally be transported upon navigable waters of the U.S without Coast Guard approval,” Diaz said.

Diaz said the Coast Guard is involved in the proposal because of its charge to regulate traffic on national waterways.

“Our role is to regulate transport on the rivers in the United States,” he said.

Diaz said the materials used in fracking are relatively new and questions have been raised if those materials are authorized for transport.

Shale gas extraction wastewater is not a bulk cargo currently listed in the code of federal regulations.

“People have been asking. As a regulator, we need to evaluate that,” Diaz said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, in consultation with other agencies and federal laboratories, has determined safe carriage requirements for shale gas extraction wastewater, Diaz said.

The policy letter provides one method for shippers to obtain Coast Guard approval to ship shale gas extraction wastewater by barge.

The proposal is on the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. Government, under the Carriage of Conditionally Permitted Shale Gas Extraction wastewater in Bulk.

Diaz stressed the matter is only in the proposal stage.

“It is way too early,” he said. “This is not 30 days and then it goes into implementation.”

As of Monday afternoon, the policy had about nine comments, almost all of which were concerned about the contamination of the Ohio River and drinking water supplies. Parkersburg relies on wells along the Ohio River to provide its drinking water.

Diaz said officials will have to address all the comments before moving forward. The proposal has been open to comments for about a week.

The public comment period ends Nov. 29.