The fracking industry is attempting to construct barge loading and unloading sites for shipping of toxic, radioactive fracking wastewater (i.e. produced water) on the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers putting millions of people's drinking water at risk of contamination from toxic chemicals, petroleum distillates, per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), heavy metals, radioactive materials and other undisclosed “proprietary” substances.
Active or Proposed Barging Sites along the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers:
Monongahela River Mile 96.7, Star City near Morgantown, WV
River Mile 43.5, Speers, near Belle Vernon, PA;
Allegheny River Mile 29.6, Freeport, PA;
Ohio River Mile 93.5, Comtech Industries Terminal at Bellaire, OH;
River Mile 123.1, Hannibal, OH and offloading at River Mile 160, Enlink Midstream/Belles Run Terminal, Newport, OH and River Mile 173, Deep Rock Disposal Terminal, Marietta, OH.
These sites would put the public's drinking water at risk of toxic fracking wastewater contamination. The exact composition of the wastewater is extremely difficult to obtain due to the fractured permitting process that allows the fracking industry to claim their chemical slurry as proprietary making it is near impossible to assess the full extent of the risks of barging the fracking wastewaters. Nevertheless, we do know some of the wastewater's composition, including highly toxic metals, such as arsenic and barium, and volatile compounds, such as hydrogen sulfide and benzene. These components are known to cause serious health problems, including cancers and death. Moreover, these wastewaters often contain toxic levels of salt and the radioactive human carcinogen radium. In fact, some samples from the Marcellus Shale show levels of radium 3,600 times higher than EPA's drinking water standard.
Because of the known and unknown elements of the fracking wastewater, the primary concern of transporting produced water by barges are spills - both periodic spills that are likely to occur and catastrophic spills that could potentially occur. Spills can occur directly from the barges as well as at the loading and unloading facilities. Spills can occur due to inadequate equipment, human error, and uncontrollable external forces, such as extreme weather conditions. According to a PSE report released in August 2021, rising water levels during high rainfall or snowmelt events obscures riverbanks and disturbs or moves river sediments, altering the riverbed and challenging the river's navigability. Furthermore, the report found that these events can create water currents that can pull vessels off course and/or throw debris into the vessel's path, further increasing the risk of a toxic spill into the drinking water for millions of people, many of which are already facing inequitable living conditions, risking their long-term health and life expectancy. The USACE estimates that up to 50% more water could flow through the Ohio River watershed within this century due to climate change. PSE's report also examined the USCG's database on inland accidents and found that serious accidents are on the rise. The USCG defines serious accidents as incidents involving death or serious injury, excessive property damage, or a discharge of hazardous materials. In 2010, about 8% of incidents were serious. By 2018, serious incidents accounted for 12% of all accidents.
Furthermore, when a spill does occur, it is unclear who is responsible for accident management and spill mitigation—especially since the contents of each barge are not disclosed. Fracking wastewater carried on barges is considered a hazardous material by the USCG even though it is exempted as a hazardous material by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Because this contradicts hazardous designation along with the undisclosed nature of the produced wastewater, holding polluters accountable will be challenging and at the costs of the local residents - from their taxpaying pockets and their long-term health.
Our towns and cities along these rivers get our drinking water from aquifers that are highly susceptible to river contamination, and we want to assure safe drinking water for current and future generations. We do not want ANY oil and gas waste being transported along the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers. Please sign onto the petition to the US Coast Guard and US Army Corps of Engineers regarding the barging of fracking waste on the 3 rivers!
For a full report on the known and expected impacts of barging fracking wastewater and where our data come from, see Rossi and Dominic DiGiulio (2021).