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Inland Barges Carrying Fracking Waste Proposed

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Coast Guard requests comments on a proposed policy letter that outlines conditions for commercial barge owners who want to ship Shale Gas Extraction Waste Water on inland waterways.

The wastewater is produced by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" operations. Fracking is a relatively new process of using pressurized water to extracting natural gas and oil from shale deposits that were previously unreachable using conventional technologies. The technique, however, produces waste material that can include radioactive isotopes like radium-226 and radium-228, according to the USCG.

The Shale Gas Extraction Waste Water (SGEWW) is currently stored at drilling sites or transported by rail or truck to remote storage or reprocessing centers. Owners of commercial barges now want to ship the waste to storage or reprocessing centers at sites in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana, using inland waterways.

Fracking waste is not a permitted cargo under Coast Guard regulations because the chemical composition varies with each load. The loads vary based on chemicals at the drilling site, drilling fluid, the specific site being drilled and the age of the well. Carrying these varied types of loads requires a Certificate of Inspection endorsement or a letter allowing its transport.

The proposed policy letter outlines the conditions potential carriers must meet to obtain the special endorsements.

"The policy letter specifies the conditions under which a barge owner may request and be granted a Certificate of Inspection endorsement or letter, under [federal regulations], allowing the barge to transport SGEWW in bulk as Conditionally Permitted SGEWW. The policy letter also defines the information the Coast Guard may require the barge owner to provide and specifies the additional requirements the Coast Guard is considering imposing on such barges," the agency said.

Some of the proposed requirements in the letter include chemical analysis of loads, inspection surveys of barges, proper venting to avoid pressure buildup from radioisotopes, radium-226 and radium-228, and inspection of enclosures where radioisotopes can build up over time, to ensure the safety of personnel.

Specifically, barge owners would be responsible for having a chemical analysis conducted by a state-accredited laboratory before each transport.

The analysis includes "the SGEWW's pH range and physical appearance, a gross chemical analysis, a hazardous waste determination, and a report on the presence of over 50 chemicals or characteristics associated with SGEWW," according to the proposed policy letter. The purpose of the analysis, in part, is to make sure radioactive isotopes (radium) have not exceeded transportation limits.

According to the letter, USCG District and Sector Commanders would use the guidance in the proposed policy letter to ensure compliance. The letter compliments, but does not otherwise affect the current Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular, which is a detailed guidance for enforcement or compliance, but does not have the force of law, according to the USCG.

Carlos Diaz, a media representative for the USCG, was not immediately available for comment.

Comments are due by Nov. 29.

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