Can a Bankrupt Company Protect Appalachian Drinking Water?

The company starting the debate over barging fracking wastes on US rivers is in bankruptcy. GreenHunter Water LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GreenHunter Resources, Inc (NYSE: GRH) sought Chapter 11 protection on March 1, 2016. GRH bankruptcy was filed just after the United State Coast Guard (USCG) decided it would evaluate permits to ship fracking wastes — technically called shale gas extraction wastewater (SGEWW)– on a case-by-case basis.

GRH claims it is “the largest water treatment and fluids management company in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region.” The company currently trucks wastes for deep well injection from drill sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to Ohio. Shipping by barge on the Ohio river (rather than by trucks) would be less expensive and would increase GRH profits.

It is now clear that, contrary to statements GRH made in SEC filings, the company carrying the most SGEWW in Appalachia is cash-strapped and bankrupt.

GRH has promised to re-apply to USCG for permission to barge SGEWW. GRH company spokesperson Amanda Finn allegedly said it was good for GRH that the USCG policy was pulled as “it makes it easier for individual companies to go to (the Coast Guard) and say, ‘We want to work with you.’ ”

It is unclear whether USCG was will either make SGEWW applications available to the public or notify the public if SGEWW applications are approved by USCG.

And therein lies the reason for public concern. Over 70,000 folks wrote into USCG and the Army Corps of Engineers explaining worry that shipping SGEWW by barge will result in an accident or spill that will taint drinking water.

The folks in Appalachia have experience with industry spills contaminating drinking water. Many are still reeling from the 2014 Elk River chemical spill leaving about 300,000 residents in nine West Virginia counties without potable water. In 1988, a spill released 800,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Monongahela River. And the Buffalo Creek flood of 1972 releasing about 132,000,000 gallons of black coal wastewater still looms heavily as the 9/11 of Appalachia. The Buffalo Creek spill killed 125, left 1,121 injured and over 4,000 homeless.

Adequate regulation of fracking waste is a public health imperative.

And the democratic process demands that both SGEWW permits and the permitting process are transparent.

The people of Appalachia are entitled to know what is being transported on their rivers; and the companies doing so need to ensure that the process is both safe and that needed preparations are made in advance for correcting inevitable spills and accidents.

Clean drinking water is critical to public health. Protecting drinking water is a priority. Permits designed to protect drinking water must include public notice and comment.

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