On October 30, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard proposed a policy that would allow oil and gas companies to ship fracking wastewater down our nation’s waterways by barge. The amount of waste that fracking produces is a bottleneck for oil and gas development, but this proposal would help remedy that problem on the industry’s behalf. The public was given only thirty days to comment. If we want to protect our natural resources and our health now and for future generations, we must voice our concerns today.
The Coast Guard’s proposed policy contradicts their own mission to “develop and enforce regulations to avert the introduction of invasive species into the maritime environment, stop unauthorized ocean dumping, and prevent oil and chemical spills.” In fact, it’s another instance of the Obama Administration’s failure to protect our nation’s precious resources by bolstering fossil fuel development instead.
If passed, major waterways, including the nation’s largest river, the Mississippi River, and its largest tributary the Ohio River, could face widespread contamination from hard to clean spills.
Fracking uses millions of gallons of fracking fluid for a single well — a blend of water, sand and toxic chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to break up rock, allowing oil and gas to flow into the well. Some of the fracking fluid stays underground indefinitely and the rest flows back up out of the well.
The flowback wastewater contains potentially extreme levels of harmful contaminants that are brought to the surface, which can include arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium, barium, strontium, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, toluene, xylene, corrosive salts and naturally occurring radioactive material, such as radium-226.
However, we do not know all the chemicals used because under the Halliburton Loophole, fracking fluid is considered a trade secret. Fracking is exempt from the rules of the Safe Drinking Water Act, so oil and gas companies are not required to disclose lists of the chemicals they use. Not to mention, each company’s concoction varies in content. When the components of a spill are unknown, the clean up process becomes quite challenging.
Hazardous spills in the water dissipate fast and spread wide, which is greatly concerning when you consider at least three million people depend on the Ohio River for drinking water and roughly 18 million more depend on the Mississippi River.
Furthermore, barges carry approximately 60 times more waste than trucks do, which could allow a massive amount of toxic waste to be spilled directly into major freshwater sources, and their accident and spill track record is by no means clean. In January of 2013, a barge struck a railroad bridge and spilled 7,000 gallons of crude oil into the Mississippi. Less than a month later on February 14, 2013 two barges collided on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, which resulted in a smaller spill of 4-8 barrels of oil. In May, a collision in Connecticut caused 14 barges to break away from their moorings and 300 gallons of oil to spill.
Transporting fracking waste by barge is dangerous and will only perpetuate fossil fuel development. We can’t let the Coast Guard give the oil and gas industry the legal “thumbs up” to dump their problems into someone else’s backyard (i.e. our rivers and streams) and continue a totally unsustainable method of energy extraction.