Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
Shale Drillers Want to Move Waste Water on Barges

The shale gas drilling industry wants to move its waste water by barge on rivers and lakes across the country. But the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the nation's waterways, must first decide whether it's safe.

"It may be hazardous," said Cmdr. Michael Roldan, chief of the Coast Guard's Hazardous Material Division, stressing the word "may." "If it is, it would not be allowed to ship under bulk."

Right now, he pointed out during an interview with PublicSource, it can't be shipped by barge, even though there has been confusion in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Ohio about whether it could be.

The Coast Guard has been considering whether to allow the industry to use the waterways for about a year, according to Cmdr. Roldan, who said the question came up when the Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh -- the local office of the Coast Guard -- called the Washington office to clarify whether bulk transport was allowed after Marcellus Shale drillers began making inquiries.

The Coast Guard's decision would affect more than Pittsburgh's iconic three rivers. Nearly 12,000 miles of waterways could be open to these waterborne behemoths, each carrying 10,000 barrels of waste water.

Like so many questions involving the shale gas industry, it's a divisive one. Environmentalists said the possibility of a spill that could contaminate Pittsburgh's rivers with chemicals isn't worth the risk. But industry officials who advocate waterway transport said barges are the safest, and cheapest, way to move this stuff.

A barge accident would be a "massive catastrophe," said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy organization.

"It's not just a contamination of a waterway," Mr. Hvozdovich said. "You're talking about the contamination of the drinking water supply for about half a million people. ... It seems like a very bad idea."
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