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Barge companies like Coast Guard plan

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 6:31 p.m.
jim Ference | The Valley Independent
This file photo of tug and barge under the Donora-Monessen Bridge was taken March 19, 2013.

A Coast Guard proposal to allow fracking waste to be shipped along the nation's rivers to disposal sites is being welcomed by local barge firms.

And it is being eyed as a possible means to offset some loss of river traffic due to the closure of two coal-burning electric power plants, including one in the Valley.

“There's been a lot of interest in transporting fracking water and getting it off the streets,” said Jim McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh.

“We would expect that to translate into additional traffic on the waterways.”

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission's mission is “to promote the commercial use and development of the inland waterway-intermodal transportation system and to integrate that system into the economic, recreational, environmental and intermodal future of the residents and industries of southwestern Pennsylvania.”

The Coast Guard is accepting public comments on its proposal through Nov. 29. McCarville said although the Port of Pittsburgh hopes the Coast Guard makes a decision quickly, it can't predict when that might occur. The Coast Guard is expected to review all comments before making a decision.

Currently, coal accounts for about two-thirds of the cargo transported on the rivers, McCarville said.

Fracking fluid is about 99.5 percent water and sand, but the remaining 0.5 percent contains additives that vary from company to company, said Patrick Creighton, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a drilling trade group.

FirstEnergy announced this summer that it was closing two coal-fueled electric power plants, including the Mitchell Power Station at Courtney. That plant shut down last month.

McCarville said the ability to haul fracking waste water would offset potential loss of barge traffic caused by the shutdown of coal-burning electric power plants.

Peter Stephaich, chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Co. in Dunlevy, which operates about 40 tows and 500 barges, said tank barges used today are double-hulled, meaning liquid chemicals are separated from the rivers by two layers of steel.

“They are tanks within tanks,” Stephaich said, adding one 15-barge tow can haul the equivalent of 216 railroad cars and 1,050 trucks.

The amount of waste that can be shipped in barges is one of the reasons why the industry wants the Coast Guard to allow it.

A Texas Transportation Institute report last year showed that barge companies had one spill of at least 1,000 gallons for every 39,404 ton-miles. By comparison, trucks average one spill for every 8,555 ton-miles and trains average one for 58,591 ton-miles.

From 2003 through 2009, barge spills plummeted, the report said. After three straight years of at least 10 spills at the start of that span, just one large spill was reported in both 2008 and 2009, the report said.

“We get cleaner and safer every year,” Stephaich said.

James Guttman, vice president Guttman Oil Co., said the Coast Guard decision to permit frack water transportation along the river “would positively impact increased business and employment” at his company.

The impact will be dependent on how the policy is written, Guttman said.

“Hopefully it will be an approved policy we can all comply with,” Guttman said. “If we can move it by barge, it would safer and more economical.”

The Guttman Group barges delivered fuel for the Mitchell Power Plant's petroleum needs.

A 2011 report cited by the industry coalition said additives include ethylene glycol, commonly used in airplane deicing and radiator fluid; 2-butoxy ethanol, used as a solvent in many surface coatings and fast-drying paints and lacquers; and hydrochloric acid. Many are considered harmful.

“Gasoline is gasoline, chlorine is chlorine. You know what you're getting. But frack water is going to be different company by company and well by well,” said Stephaich, explaining why the Coast Guard wants testing for every shipment.

Stephaich predicted third-party inspectors would perform the analyses, which could take days.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or