Coast Guard Proposes Policy to Transport Radioactive Fracking Wastewater by Barge
By Emily DeMarco
The Coast Guard began studying the issue nearly two years ago at the request of its Pittsburgh office, which had inquiries from companies transporting Marcellus Shale wastewater. If the policy is approved, companies can ship the wastewater in bulk on barges on the nation’s 12,000 miles of waterways, a much cheaper mode than trucks or rail.
The public will have 30 days to comment.
Under the policy, companies would first have to test the wastewater at a state-certified laboratory and provide the data to the Coast Guard for review. The tests would determine levels of radioactivity, pH, bromides and other hazardous materials. In addition, the barges would also have to be checked for the accumulation of radioactive particles that might affect workers.
If the test results meet the limits outlined in the policy, the companies would receive Coast Guard approval to ship the wastewater in bulk. It is unclear whether the barge companies would self-report the test results.
All records outlined in the proposed policy must be held by the barge companies for two years, but would be available to the Coast Guard. Normally, the information also would be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. However, “the identity of proprietary chemicals may be withheld from public release,” the policy states.
Environmental groups, academics and the media have tried to get information about the chemicals used in fracking in the past. However, gas drilling companies have refused to release the specific amounts of chemicals they pump underground to release gas from the shale formation.
Benjamin Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, said the part of the policy about proprietary chemicals is worrisome to him because “it’s the easy out."
“All they have to do is say ‘proprietary information’ and they don’t have to do anything” in terms of releasing information to the public, Stout said. (Stout is a board member of FracTracker. Both FracTracker and PublicSource are funded, in part, by the Heinz Endowments.)
The gas drilling industry already is exempt from a laundry list of federal regulations, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.
The Coast Guard’s letter accompanying the proposed policy specifically asks the public for comment on the disclosure of proprietary information.
The full policy can be read on the Coast Guard’s website where all public comments will be posted.
“We are required to take in consideration those comments before we move to the next step,” said Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for the Coast Guard. “Our role as a regulatory agency is to get it right.”
The question of moving the wastewater by barges has been controversial.
Environmentalists said the possibility of a spill that could contaminate Pittsburgh’s rivers with chemicals isn’t worth the risk. But industry officials said barges are the safest, and cheapest, way to move the wastewater.
“Waterways are the least costly way of transporting it,” said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, an agency that advocates for waterway transport. “We look forward to being able to get the trucks off the highways as quickly as possible.”
Stout counters that the risks on the water are huge.
“If and when there’s a spill, that can’t be cleaned up,” Stout said. “That means it’s going to be in the drinking-water supply of millions of people.”
One of the companies interested in the policy is GreenHunter Water, which handles wastewater for major oil and gas companies. Jonathan Hoopes, president of GreenHunter, said the company is pleased that the proposed policy has been published.
“Now that we’ve seen the proposed policy letter, it allows us to do the research that we need to do to comply,” Hoopes said. "You’ll hear a lot more from a lot larger companies than GreenHunter in the near future about this."
Officials from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents gas drilling companies, did not return a phone call requesting comment.
There is commercial interest in moving the wastewater from Pennsylvania via inland waterways to be stored, reprocessed or disposed of in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana, according to the policy.
If approved, the Coast Guard's policy could be momentous for the gas-drilling industry, as the amount and transportation of wastewater is seen as a growing concern for both the industry and its critics.
Each barge could transport approximately 10,000 barrels of wastewater over the nation’s waterways.
Steve Hvozdovich, who is with the advocacy organization Clean Water Action, said his group plans to comment on the policy.
“I’m a little disappointed to hear there’s only a 30-day public comment period,” he said. “Thirty days is not sufficient in my mind.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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