Amid protest, GreenHunter pursues Wheeling frack fluid plant - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Amid protest, GreenHunter pursues Wheeling frack fluid plant

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GreenHunter Water has acquired the former Seidler's Oil Service at North 28th Street in Wheeling and its adjacent Ohio River barge terminal for a gas industry waste fluid processing facility. GreenHunter Water has acquired the former Seidler's Oil Service at North 28th Street in Wheeling and its adjacent Ohio River barge terminal for a gas industry waste fluid processing facility.
"Please do not put Wheeling downstream from a toxic disaster," reads a sign at an April 21 rally opposing the facility. "Please do not put Wheeling downstream from a toxic disaster," reads a sign at an April 21 rally opposing the facility.

A gas industry waste fluid treatment facility proposed for Wheeling has come up against some public opposition.

GreenHunter Water plans to put its facility in the Warwood section of Wheeling. It's already bought an out-of-use industrial property, and it will invest $1.7 million and employ 15 for construction and 12 permanently — all things communities usually like.

But not everyone, in this instance.

A subsidiary of GreenHunter Energy out of Grapevine, Texas, GHW was formed 2011 to take advantage of the anticipated need for water-related services for unconventional oil and gas. GHE is a sister company to Magnum Hunter Resources Corp., which is the parent of producer Triad Hunter and pipeline company Eureka Hunter that operate locally.

GHW's operation in Appalachia has grown quickly. The company has acquired or developed eight underground injection wells in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia with an injection capacity of 13,000 barrels per day, or bpd — two of those in Ritchie County, W.Va. — and has a fleet of water transport trucks of about 30, according to recent reports.

The company offers services that include hauling, storage, processing, disposal and tracking under a Total Water Management Solutions trademark.

The Wheeling proposal

In March, GHW announced it had acquired an industrial-zoned property and a barge loading facility in Wheeling. That's the former Seidler's Oil Service at North 28th Street in the northern strip of the city that lies along the Ohio River, with an adjacent barge terminal.

The company plans to convert the existing 11,000-square foot warehouse into a 10,000 bpd waste fluids processing facility and to build up to 19,000 barrels of tank storage.

The treatment technology is a "vibration separation nano-filtration" system, according to GHE President and CEO Jonathan Hoopes, to remove suspended solids from gasfield brine — flowback that returns to the surface during hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and produced water that comes up during gas production — and would produce three streams of output.

Clean brine — perhaps 80 percent of the volume, Hoopes said — would be placed onto tanker trucks that have unloaded dirty brine for re-use in hydraulic fracturing. Brine recycling enables shale gas producers to use less fresh water.

Dehydrated solid waste, 5 to 10 percent of incoming volume, would go to approved landfills.

And concentrated liquid waste, the remaining 10 percent or so, would go out to GHW's permitted injection disposal wells — by truck or, the company hopes, by barge, "when the Coast Guard gives its determination of how to classify the brine so we know how to handle it," Hoopes said.

The treatment technology is being used elsewhere in a mobile platform, Hoopes said; this would be the first permanent installation he knows of in the oil and gas industry.

Community concerns

At an April 21 rally at the Wheeling's drinking water treatment plant aimed at educating local residents about GHW's plans and organizing opposition, Robin Mahonen of an organization called Wheeling Water Warriors said she's most worried, as are others who attended the rally, about the potential for spills at the site.

"It's actually 1.2 miles upstream from this, our main water treatment facility," Mahonen said.

"The possibility of seepage or spill at the site is very great. Trucks could spill when they are loading or unloading water," which she characterized as toxic and potentially radioactive. Also, "this river has a habit of flooding, it could rise up there, the tanks are going to be underground — how are they going to keep the water separate from that? And a barge sank here last week, and three barges have sunk up in Pittsburgh in the last two years … These accidents happen and it will affect the water supply of the entire Ohio River."

Several who attended the rally spoke also of concerns about the truck traffic on the five miles or so of North Main Street and River Road that runs through residential and commercial areas between Interstate 70 and the site.

Several organizations had tables at the rally with information about the shale gas industry, hydraulic fracturing and how to get a drinking water well tested, but no specific information about the proposed facility.

The reason for that may be related to the biggest concern of Wheeling City Council member Gloria Delbrugge representing the First Ward GHW's site lies within.

"They kind of came in the back door," Delbrugge said. She's worried about spills, but this is what worries her fundamentally.

"They bought the property, then did a press release on their own, and the city knew nothing," she said. "Not that they had to come to the city, but my thought would be you come to the city, sit down and say, ‘This is what we'd like to do.' The way they went about it, I have trust issues."

In council member Don Atkinson's view, it's just that the public attention has gotten ahead of the process.

"It's getting some social and emotional publicity because the real estate transaction put it in the paper, but there's nothing before us yet for a decision," Atkinson said.

With regard to safety of the city's drinking water supply, he said he's doing his own research and is interested to see what the Coast Guard and other regulators have to say about risk.

Some answers

So, what is the design against leaks and spills?

For the transfer of fluids from truck to tank, the trucks will sit on containment pads at offloading stations, Hoopes said.

"Any type of rupture in a pipe, it is collected within the containment pad, sent to underground storage tanker to be sent to tanks. Truck and offloading pad are all self contained," he said.

Transfer of fluids from tank to barge will be conducted through underground pipes.

"There are certified people called tanker men," Hoopes said. "They're certified to hook up pipelines to the barge — they go through enormous amounts of education and training to do this because they're dealing in hydrochloric acid, major chemicals that are shipped up and down the rivers every day. Is there any potential for spills? I would like to say no. But there's always a possibility."

How many trucks?

Running at full design capacity, the plant would process 10,000 bpd. Assuming a tanker truck carries about 100 barrels, that's 100 truck trips carrying dirty brine in and most of them carrying clean brine out each day — they can't all leave full because some of the volume is removed as waste.

In addition, perhaps 10 percent of the volume will go out for landfill disposal. Assuming the same size trucks, that's another 10 truck trips out and back a day. And the remaining 10 percent will go out for underground injection, another 10 truck trips out and back.

So that's about 120 truck round trips a day; 15 round trips an hour if they all take place during typical work hours. If barge transport of gas industry waste fluids becomes a reality, since a barge equals about 100 trucks, it's 110 truck round trips a day and 1 barge stop every 10 days.

Asked about the safety of fluid shipment by barge, Hoopes said, "For every 100 trucks that we don't take off the road, there's going to be a truck accident. Everyone needs to sit down and look at the costs and benefits of trucking versus barging and ask which has the lower risk profile all things considered."

GHE Vice President John Jack said the plant's capacity is 75 to 80 percent committed, though he declined to say to whom.

Next steps

Opponents have planned to stop the project by blocking what they believe is a zoning change or variance GHW would need to cross a strip of land between the warehouse and the barge terminal through which the Wheeling Heritage Trail bike path passes and which is zoned residential.

A petition Mahonen started online asking council to deny a zoning change had 194 signatures on May 3.

But Jack said the company already has the rights it needs to cross the bike path.

"There's an easement that allows us to utilize the existing pipes underground," he said. "They can't deny us the use of the right of way."

The only permit needed is a building construction permit, he said. City planners familiar with the plant could not be reached to confirm that.

Hoopes expects construction to start on Phase I, the processing facility, in the first or second week of June with general contractor Westfall Construction. Operation is planned to begin about four months later. Should transport of gas industry waste fluids by barge become possible, Phase II work will be conducted on the barge terminal.