Fracking Impacts Many, Including Towing Industry
The Waterways Journal
20 January 2014
The growing use of hydraulic fracturing, a process that forces oil
out of shale and other formations, has opened up new vistas for
the energy industry.
Promising as the process is, however, and as many supporters as it
has, it also has opponents by the score.
Congress and the Obama administration officially favor fracking.
On December 20, 2013, Congress passed the so-called Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) Streamlining Act, which created offices in North
Dakota and Montana to approve fracking permits on public lands in
those states. The act amended the Bush-era Energy Policy Act.
The 30-day public comment period for the U.S. Coast Guard's
proposed policy for moving fracking wastewater by barge has ended.
The proposed policy will allow shale gas companies to ship
fracking wastewater on rivers and lakes of the U.S. During the
comment period, environmentalists generated much sound, fury and
suspicion on alleged potential hazards of barging fracking water,
but few facts.
A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office concluded
that risks of air pollution, congestion or fatality were lower for
barge transportation than for any other mode. A report by the
National Waterways Foundation (promoted on whitehouse.gov, the
White House's official website) notes that trucks lose an average
of 6.06 gallons per one million ton-miles, railcars: 3.86 gallons
— and barges 3.6 gallons, again the lowest rate.
As for the claim that fracking water is "toxic" and that companies
"hide" the ingredients they use, Jonathan Hoopes, whose company
GreenHunter Water is a leader in treatment of fracking water,
notes that 99 percent of hydraulic fracturing fluid consists of
sand, salt and water. Drillers post their ingredients on the
industry website Frac Focus; one of the most common additives in
fracking fluids is guar gum, also used as a food additive and in
The Corps of Engineers reports that 2,000 tons of radioactive
waste, almost 1.6 million tons of sulfuric acid and 315 millions
tons of petroleum products were moved by barge in 2010. All of
these substances are much more hazardous than anything found in
fracking water. The American Waterways Operators' Jennifer
Carpenter has said. "We expect that shale gas wastewater can be
transported just as safely."
Concern that moving the wastewater by barge is more dangerous than
other hazardous cargoes is not well founded. While
environmentalists warn of the possibility of spills contaminating
rivers, it is a fact that barges are the safest and cheapest way
to move the wastewater. To date. the wastewater has been moved by
trucks and trains, neither of which are immune to spills.
If the fracking revolution continues, as seems likely, the
industry will provide the barges necessary to meet the need — in
an economical, environmentally sound and safe way.
The other major effect of fracking will be most likely to reduce
tonnages as oil and gas liquids replace coal, which has long been
the top waterways commodity by tonnage. In the past, this would
have meant "decline," but there are many reasons why that is no
longer the case.
Leading voices in the waterways community are pointing out that
the barge industry is going to have to find new statistics to tell
As these voices suggest. there are plenty of alternative figures.
from the amount of barge- and boat-building, to the value of large
project cargoes that cannot be moved efficiently any other way, to
the onshore ripple effects of activities involving barging, jobs
supported, and the environmental and safety benefits over other
All of these figures have been supplied and discussed in reports
in recent years, yet tonnage is still the default statistic too
often taken as a gauge of the industry's health by friend and foe
alike. That will have to change.