Fracking Waste Could Be Headed Here

Cincinatti Enquirer
14 January 2014
By Carrie Blackmore Smith
What could be in frack wastewater?
High levels of total dissolved solids consist of calcium, chlorides, nitrate, phosphorus, iron, sulfur and other particles mixed with silt and clay particles, plankton, algae, fine organic debris and other particulate matter.

“An organism placed in water with a high concentration of solids will shrink somewhat because the water in its cells will tend to move out. This will in turn affect the organism’s ability to maintain the proper cell density .... [The aquatic organism] might float up or sink down to a depth to which it is not adapted, and it might not survive.... Higher levels of solids can also clog irrigation devices and might become so high that irrigated plant roots will lose water rather than gain it. A high concentration of total solids will make drinking water unpalatable and might have an adverse effect on people who are not used to drinking such water. Levels of total solids that are too high or too low can also reduce the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants, as well as the operation of industrial processes that use raw water. Total solids also affect water clarity. Higher solids decrease the passage of light through water, thereby slowing photosynthesis by aquatic plants. Water will heat up more rapidly and hold more heat; this, in turn, might adversely affect aquatic life that has adapted to a lower temperature regime.”

• Fracturing fluid additives, chemicals.
• Metals.
• Naturally occurring radioactive materials, many of which are known to cause cancer at high concentrations, including uranium, thorium, radium and lead-210.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will decide whether to allow wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing industry to be shipped along federal waterways – including the Ohio River – and how strict those rules governing the shipments should be.
The federal agency released its proposed guidelines in November after repeated requests from the oil and gas industry to move the waste by barge – evoking more than 1,000 public comments, many demanding stricter controls on the potential shipments, which could carry upwards of 75 tanker truckloads of the wastewaterCQ.
The briny, chemical-laced liquid comes out of the ground during hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as “fracking.” In the process, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is forced into shale deposits in the earth to extract natural gas and oil.
A byproduct of the industry is the wastewater that comes back up in the process, which has sparked heated debate about how the waste should be handled, including how it is shipped. With the number of wells on the rise in Ohio, companies want to ship the waste over water, a cheaper option than trucking, to areas where they can dispose of it through injection wells.
A spill of this material into the river near a water treatment facility could threaten clean water supplies, according to water utility companies like Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the Northern Kentucky Water District, which has asked that the wastewater never be shipped over water.
If transport on the Ohio River is allowed, water treatment officials argue they must know, in detail, the contents of each shipment. As the Coast Guard policy stands, however, the various mixtures of chemicals in the wastewater are considered trade secrets and would not be disclosed.
“Our goal is to know what is in a spill – and know about it ahead of time,” said Bruce Whitteberry, assistant superintendent of Cincinnati Water Works. “That gives us the best shot to make sure all of our customers stay protected.”
Coast Guard officials say these and other concerns will be considered in its final determination of regulations.
The proposal has grabbed the attention of others as well, including a group called Confluence, which, with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration, has been working to make Cincinnati a hub for the global water technology industry – work that depends on, or is at least affected by, the quality of our water.
Utilities may not have enough time, details to deal with spill
The Ohio River basin is home to roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population and provides drinking water to roughly 5 million people as well as habitat for countless plants, fish and animals – all important to the overall health of our environment.
In general, regulations are strict when it comes to spills of any material on the Ohio River, said Jerry G. Schulte, manager of source water protection and emergency response for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, an interstate agency that has helped to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River since 1948. According to federal law, even a few drops of oil is a reportable spill, Schulte said, and a big part of his job is helping water utilities know what is coming so the utility can figure out how to respond.
Under the Coast Guard’s proposed guidelines, the potential threats of a fracking wastewater spill would be difficult to determine, Schulte said, because the custom mix of chemicals that goes into the ground is considered a trade secret and therefore the mixture coming out is as well. While the Coast Guard will know what chemical mixture the companies use, such details would not be available to Schulte or other local authorities.
Schulte and others are demanding that each shipment be analyzed.
“There is always the potential for an accident,” Schulte said, “and depending on where an accident or a release may occur of any materials, whether it’s frack water or any other material that is shipped on the Ohio River ... it could compromise the water quality.”
The dense liquid would sink, potentially harming or killing plants and animals at the bottom of the river, which could have wider effects on the entire ecosystem, but the greatest impact – or at least the one with the greatest threat to the public – would be on water utilities, Schulte said.
As things stand, the Coast Guard’s policy letter is guidance on how the oil, gas and barge companies should handle such waste, but “it doesn’t bind the company that ships the waste or the Coast Guard employee that signs off on the barge (to follow the guidelines),” said James O’Reilly, a University of Cincinnati professor of public health and law who wrote a textbook on administrative rule-making. He is pressing the Coast Guard to propose more stringent rules.
The Coast Guard should complete an environmental impact statement, O’Reilly and others say, which would analyze the potential effects of a spill on the environment, and then issue rules the industry must follow as well as defined consequences when they don’t.
Shipments could contain a myriad of chemicals
When something harmful spills into the river, proximity plays a big role.
The river is large, and spills dilute quickly, but a spill near a treatment facility’s intakes would be the worst-case scenario, said Mary Carol Wagner, water quality manager at the Northern Kentucky Water District.
Local utilities do one of two things in the event of a spill, she said: close the river intakes and let the material float by or treat the water with extra chemicals.
While large spills are rare (the last one affecting the region occurred more than 25 years ago), small spills – usually oil or gas – cause the Northern Kentucky Water District to close its intakes a couple times a year, Wagner said.
She and other water-utility leaders aren’t sure how, under the current Coast Guard proposal, they would know how to treat fracking wastewater properly. “If we know what chemical it is, we can prepare ahead of time for the most part,” Wagner said.
Each wastewater shipment would contain a unique mixture of possibly dozens of chemicals used in the fracking process, however, along with organic and naturally occurring radioactive materials, all at varying concentrations, said Whitteberry of Cincinnati Water Works. That’s why they, too, are asking that every shipment be tested and those results shared.
“There could be so many chemicals in the mix, there’s the potential of many unknowns,” Whitteberry said. “A lot of any one thing could be an issue.”
It could also be very expensive to treat, Whitteberry said.
A large portion of the fluid is what is known as “total dissolved solids” – a mixture of chemical and organic elements completely dissolved in the water – that are directly related to water purity. Conventional treatment facilities aren’t designed to treat large amounts of it, but they do so with granulated activated carbon, “one of our largest treatment chemical costs,” Whitteberry said.
“We’re getting smarter – the quality of the river reflects that,” Whitteberry said, but that’s why, he said, stiff regulations are necessary.
Treating the waste could be lucrative for entrepreneurs
Concerns held by water treatment officials are valid and should be addressed, said Alan Vicory, president of the board at Confluence – the collaborative working to establish the region as a global leader in sustainable environmental technology innovation – but the fracking waste­water must go somewhere.
“A lot of people are trying to figure out proper techniques” for treating the water, Vicory said. “Buttressed by a marketplace, it inherently attracts entrepreneurs, research and development.”
A new mode of transportation for the waste could create opportunity for the wastewater to be treated here, he said; unregulated, the potential for negative impacts on the local economy may be greater, said Vicory, who is also a former executive director of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and an international leader on water quality.
Erin Haynes, an assistant professor in environmental health at the University of Cincinnati who recently began studying air quality around fracking sites, agrees that now is the time to prepare for a disaster.
“Look at West Virginia, dealing with (an industrial chemical) spill right now ... It’s a potentially similar situation we could face if we don’t prepare for emergency response to something like this,” Haynes said. “Many of the compounds (in fracking wastewater) could be carcinogens, and the Ohio River is our primary drinking source.”
Members of the oil and gas industry argue this is a safer mode of transportation than trucks or trains, which may be true, Vicory said, but there are still many questions that need to be answered.
“If it does nothing else, (transport on the river) will provide one additional driver for seeking effective treatments for this,” Vicory said. “The best solution at the end of the day ... is not having to barge it at all, but to treat it on site.”
He suggests the the Coast Guard start by regulating fracking wastewater the same way it does the transportation of oil and gas.
“We’re going to assume ... it’s high hazard – and one of the reasons is (companies) aren’t telling us what’s in it,” Vicory said. “Let’s let disclosure and science back us down to less regulatory oversight.”