Wastewater recycling triggering debate

WHEELING – Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout and city resident Tom Triveri are among those strongly opposed to GreenHunter Water’s plan to recycle natural gas drilling wastewater in Warwood – but company officials contend the water they want to ship via barge poses less of a threat than other potentially hazardous materials transported on the river every day.

Representatives of the Texas-based company met with Wheeling officials Tuesday morning to discuss the company’s plan, which they expect will create 15 temporary construction jobs and 12 permanent jobs. Earlier this month, the company announced its acquisition of the former Seidler’s Oil Service property on North 28th Street for $750,000, as well as plans for $1.7 million in new construction at the plant, which the company wants to be operational by fall.

City Manager Robert Herron described Tuesday’s discussion as informal and “a good exchange of information,” but said it’s too early for the city to take a position on the project.

“Everybody had an opportunity to kind of hear what the project was about. The information that we were told today we’ll certainly research . . . and be prepared with any formal questions once they submit their zoning application,” Herron said.

The property already is zoned for industrial use, but GreenHunter Water must file paperwork with the city to ensure all aspects of its plan conform with the zoning code. It also must obtain a building permit.

City representatives at the meeting included Herron, City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth, Assistant Director of Planning and Economic Development Tom Connelly and representatives from the building inspection, water and fire departments. Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo also attended.

“I think it was very productive. I think we explained pretty well what we’re trying to do up there,” said John Jack, vice president of business development for GreenHunter Water, regarding Tuesday’s meeting.

But Jack believes the public has misconceptions concerning the company’s proposed operations. He said GreenHunter Water is not seeking a permit to discharge anything into the river, and is confident safeguards to contain spills that otherwise could result in accidental discharge into the river meet all state and federal environmental regulations.

The U.S. Coast Guard is reviewing whether barges should be permitted to transport frack water on inland waterways. Opponents are concerned a river accident involving those barges could pose a threat to drinking water, but Jack said potentially hazardous substances such as petroleum and hydrochloric acid are shipped on the Ohio River every day.

GreenHunter Water officials also believe accidents are less likely to occur during barge shipping than during truck transport, and shipping the material by river will reduce the strain heavy trucks cause on area roads.

Following Tuesday’s meeting with city officials, Jack explained the process GreenHunter Water plans to use to recycle frack water. After the wastewater arrives by truck at the Warwood facility, it would be piped into the 11,000-square-foot treatment facility and put through a “vibration filter” system.

That process leaves behind the suspended solids in the form of a “thick slurry,” according to Jack, which is then compressed into a “cake material.”

The water that is pressed out of the slurry during that phase is then pumped back through the plant’s filtration system, and the separated solids – including salt, sand and chemicals used in fracking – would be transported by truck to Waste Management’s facility near Parkersburg.

The treated water would be stored in 19 tanks with a collective storage capacity of 798,000 gallons. Because wastewater disposal is more complicated in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions than in places where there are more deep injection wells – Texas, for example – the demand is greater for a way to recycle wastewater for use in future fracking operations.

Companies that bring fluid for filtration and do not want to re-use it have the option of having it sent downriver to GreenHunter Water’s New Matamoras, Ohio, storage facility, and from there to one of several deep injection wells nearby.

Concerning measures to prevent accidental discharge into the river, Jack said any spills would be captured by drains located around the property that feed into a 1,200-gallon underground storage tank, with a shutoff valve designed to keep water from overwhelming the underground system in the event of a more serious problem – such as failure of a tank. From that storage tank, spilled water would be piped back to the intake area for filtration.

According to Jack, containment around the storage tanks would be sufficient to handle more than 46,200 gallons of spillage, equal to 110 percent of the facility’s largest storage tank, as well as 4 inches of rainwater. Although there would be 19 tanks on the site, Jack said he could conceive of no situation other than deliberate sabotage that would result in the failure of more than one tank at a time.

“Anywhere that a truck is offloading has containment,” Jack added.

Several city officials said they had heard nothing about GreenHunter Water’s plans until reading about them, but Jack said there was no effort to conceal anything from the city. As a publicly traded company, he said, GreenHunter Water had an obligation to inform its shareholders of its plans and was preparing preliminary drawings to submit for the city’s review at the time of that announcement.

Jack also addressed public opposition to the company’s activities elsewhere, particularly a February demonstration at its New Matamoras storage facility that resulted in 10 arrests after about 100 protesters stormed the facility, one chaining himself to a 30-foot pole and others attempting to clog toilets in the building, according to police. Jack acknowledged people are entitled to express their opinions, but he said the New Matamoras demonstrators went too far.

“I believe in the First Amendment. … You don’t have the right to storm our facilities and put my people in harm’s way and cause property damage,” he said.

Jack said the plant should not have any effect on the Wheeling Heritage Trail, which runs between GreenHunter Water’s property and the river. Although the strip of land between the city’s Heritage Trail and the river is zoned for residential use, Jack said GreenHunter Water has a 40-foot-wide easement that crosses the trail and plans to use the existing pipe system that runs beneath it to load treated water onto barges.

“In essence, the (trail) will not be affected at all,” added architect Michael Scott.