Frack plant concerns mount
WHEELING – GreenHunter Water officials are familiar with opposition, as Washington County, Ohio sheriff’s deputies arrested 10 people in February for protesting at the company’s natural gas and oil frack water storage site in New Matamoras.
Now, Wheeling City Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge plans to use her authority to try to keep GreenHunter from establishing its new frack water recycling plant at North 28th Street in Warwood. The facility would be located at the former Seidler’s Oil Service site, directly adjacent to the Wheeling Heritage Trail.
“They say this facility will be the ‘first of its kind in the country.’ That’s because they have been run out of everywhere else,” claimed Delbrugge, who represents and lives in the Warwood section of the city.
Delbrugge and Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Community and Economic Development Department, each confirmed they had not heard anything about GreenHunter’s plans to have the facility up and running by September until reading about it in local newspaper reports.
“I am very bothered that they did not come to the city first,” Delbrugge said. “I don’t know how they do things in Texas, but this is Wheeling, W.Va.”
Jonathan D. Hoopes, GreenHunter’s president and chief operating officer, said his company now owns the Seidler’s site in addition to the portion of land that extends from the site to the Ohio River. GreenHunter paid $750,000 for the property with plans to complete $1.7 million in new construction.
Plans call for turning the existing 11,000 square-foot building into the water recycling station, while building up to 19,000 barrels of water tank storage. The project would create about 15 construction jobs, while 12 permanent jobs will be created once the plant is open.
A docking facility currently exists at the western end of the property, which Hoopes said the company plans to utilize to ship fracking waste, via barge, from Wheeling to disposal sites such as the one in New Matamoras.
Hoopes explained how the proposed Warwood plant would work: companies fracking natural gas and oil wells throughout the region would transport their wastewater via truck to Warwood, where it would be offloaded into storage tanks. GreenHunter would then use its “vibration separation system” to remove salt and other waste from the frack water, which allows the recycled water to be returned for use in the next fracking project.
The salt and other waste left behind during the recycling process is then shipped to disposal wells.
Hoopes said using barges would benefit the local area, as truck traffic would be greatly reduced.
“The roads are not built for this kind of truck traffic. What we would like to do is, instead of moving all of the waste by truck, let’s cut down on our fuel costs – and cut down on the wear and tear on your roads – by moving it by barge,” he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard currently is evaluating whether to allow barges to carry frack water on the nation’s rivers. Hoopes said if GreenHunter does not receive clearance to load barges, his company would simply continue to truck the waste to disposal wells.
There also has been some concern expressed with the proposed plant’s proximity to the Wheeling Water plant. Hoopes said it has “never been in GreenHunter’s business plan to discharge anything into the river.”
“Our customers are ecstatic that we have this facility because they know we are all going to benefit,” Hoopes said.
Regarding the possible concerns of Wheeling officials, Hoopes said, “If the city wants to give us a call, they can.”
Delbrugge said even if GreenHunter does not intentionally dump anything into the river, having a frack water recycling plant just upstream from the Wheeling Water Plant is not a good idea.
“There could be a leak. There could be a truck accident. Then, who knows what could end up in our water supply,” she said. “I just don’t think this is a good idea.”
Delbrugge also is frustrated by not being able to provide answers to her constituents that call her with questions about GreenHunter.
“They have not come to the city. I have not been able to get answers yet,” she said.
Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout also opposes the plan, noting, “nobody has a proven technology to do this.”
Stout also touched on the potential contaminates contained in the fracking wastewater. Stout said he and several other groups obtained data on the contents of drilling waste that was being disposed of in 2009 at Wheeling-based Liquid Assets Disposal – the same waste that nearly killed the city’s water pollution control plant that year and led to a $414,000 state fine against Wheeling for allowing LAD to discharge into the city’s treatment plant.
Stout said the documents show that “two of the 12 tankers that carried frack water to LAD contained levels of arsenic above primary drinking water standards, and three trucks contained benzene over drinking water standards. Two of the other trucks were scarier: one truck … had benzene levels at 1,310 micrograms per liter. The drinking water standard is 5 micrograms per liter. The other truck had liquid with a pH of 1.5. That literally would burn the skin off your bones.”
Connelly said he and other city officials are scheduled to meet with GreenHunter representatives this week to discuss the company’s proposals. Among other things, Connelly said GreenHunter will likely need a zoning compliance form and a building permit to construct the plant.
According to the city’s zoning map, the property formerly used by Seidler’s Oil is zoned for industrial use. However, the map shows that the strip of land between the city’s Heritage Trail and the river is zoned for residential use.
West Virginia DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said she is not sure what, if any, permits GreenHunter may need from her office to operate the Warwood site, noting the company had not filed any applications.
Though Delbrugge hopes the city can attract more jobs, she is not convinced the natural gas boom is the best way to achieve this.
“I don’t like all of this fracking,” she said.