GreenHunter: No spills ‘so far’

WHEELING – GreenHunter Water Vice President of Business Development John Jack said the company’s planned natural gas frack water recycling plant for Warwood poses no threat to the local water and air supplies.

However, Ohio County Health Department board member Wilkes Kinney fears having up to 23,000 barrels of frack water at the edge of the Ohio River – and just over one mile up stream from the new Wheeling water plant – could lead to a disaster similar to the Freedom Industries’ 4-methylcyclohexane methanol spill into the Elk River in Charleston earlier this month.

“We have the proper safeguards in place to ensure that does not happen,” Jack said during an informal Wednesday meeting with Kinney, fellow health board member Cheryl Wonderly, Health Officer Dr. William Mercer, Administrator Howard Gamble, Ohio County Emergency Management Agency Director Lou Vargo, Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms, Wheeling Public Works Director Russell Jebbia, Wheeling Assistant Director of the Economic and Community Development Department Tom Connelly and Wheeling resident Ben Stout.

“No materials will escape our site,” Jack said.

Site plans show the plant featuring a dike that is slightly more than 2 feet high to prevent any spill from leaving the site, while there will also be drains on the ground leading to underground storage tanks.

Kinney cited Freedom Industries’ recent bankruptcy filing to limit the company’s liabilities for disrupting water service to roughly 300,000 customers in the Charleston area for several days.

“We have no plans of going bankrupt,” Jack said, noting the company carries an unspecified amount of insurance to cover claims.

The Wheeling Planning Commission last year approved “Phase 1” of GreenHunter’s plan to transform the former Seidler’s Oil Service at North 28th Street into a facility that will accept and recycle water used in local fracking operations. GreenHunter still needs to present “Phase 2” of the project, which involves barging the frack water, for commission consideration.

“Without the barging, this facility does not make any sense,” Jack said. “I won’t start this facility until I get approval by the U.S. Coast Guard.”

The Coast Guard is reviewing comments issued concerning the barging of frack waste on rivers such as the Ohio. Jack said he has “no doubt” the agency will approve the plan.

While awaiting a decision by the Coast Guard, Jack said GreenHunter likely will start building at the site this spring. He said the company will test the pipe leading to the barging area to determine if it can be used, but will simply replace it if needed. GreenHunter also needs a road-use permit from the West Virginia Division of Highways because of sight clearance concerns.

“These are issues we have to work through with every development,” Jack said. “It’s all about negotiations.”

GreenHunter operates a facility that accepts and cleans brine water in New Matamoras, Ohio, which members of Wheeling Council visited last year. Mercer asked Jack if the company detected any radioactive fracking material entering this site.

“We have not experienced any so far. We test quite a bit,” Jack said.

Vargo and Jebbia said their main concern is that they receive prompt notification of any potential spill so they would have time to shut down the water plant’s intake.

“It only takes us minutes to shut it down, once we are notified,” Jebbia said.

Mercer and Stout asked Jack if GreenHunter would monitor for air pollution at the site. Gamble confirmed detecting significant amounts of carcinogenic benzene in the air near Ohio County fracking sites.

“No. We don’t handle hydrocarbons,” Jack said. “The product we handle is non-hazardous.”