EDITOR'S NOTE: The past 12 months have been interesting -and at times, trying - for local residents, as natural gas drilling, politics, court cases and numerous other issues dominated the daily headlines. Starting today, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register present the Ohio Valley's top 10 stories of 2013, as voted on by the newspapers' editors.
WHEELING - When 2013 began, few if any city residents had ever heard of GreenHunter Water - or imagined they would get a frack water recycling plant at the northern tip of Warwood.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Protesters were very disappointed when the Wheeling Planning Commission allowed GreenHunter Water to proceed with a frack water recycling plant in Warwood.
By spring, the "Wheeling Water Warriors" began sprouting up to protest the efforts of the Houston, Texas-based company, all the while emphasizing their fears that having such a site near a residential neighborhood will endanger the public.
However, GreenHunter officials maintain their plant will actually make the Wheeling area safer by reducing the amount of heavy truck traffic transporting frack waste along W.Va. 2 and Interstate 70.
Even though GreenHunter has permission to build "Phase 1" of its planned facility at the former Seidler's Oil Service on North 28th Street, construction has yet to begin. In the yet-to-be-approved "Phase 2," GreenHunter would also like to place the frack waste on Ohio River barges so that it can be taken down river for disposal in landfills.
As the year closes, those on both sides of the GreenHunter debate wait to see what 2014 will hold for the construction of the $1.7 million facility that is immediately adjacent to the Wheeling Heritage Trail.
Creating the Project
In March, GreenHunter Vice President of Business Development John Jack stated on his company's website that officials would build a "first-of-its-kind in the country" frack water recycling plant in Wheeling to meet the growing needs of the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling region. Further investigation revealed that this project would be built at the at the former Seidler's Oil Service on North 28th Street.
Almost immediately after The Intelligencer's initial story on the GreenHunter project, Wheeling city officials and residents began raising questions and concerns. They organized an April protest at Warwood Garden Park to which they brought signs featuring statements such as, "Stop fracking with our water."
Upon visiting GreenHunter's similar site in New Matamoras, Ohio in May, The Intelligencer reviewed the site plans for the Warwood project before any Wheeling city officials got to do so.
Plans call for turning the existing 11,000-square-foot building at North 28th Street into the water recycling station, while building up to 19,000 barrels of water tank storage. The project would create about 15 construction jobs, while 12 permanent new jobs will be created once the plant is open. Jack said approximately 30 trucks, each carrying about 100 barrels of brine water from local fracking operations, should arrive at the site each day once it is up and running.
Jonathan D. Hoopes, president and interim CEO for GreenHunter, said the company plans to collect wastewater used at fracking sites throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale regions. After GreenHunter uses its vibration separation system to remove salt and other waste from the frack water, the recycled water could be returned for use at frack sites.
Most of the wastewater from drilling and fracking - once it cannot be recycled or reused any further - eventually ends up being injected into disposal wells, such as the one operated by David Hill atop the Kirkwood Heights area of Belmont County.
"The roads are not built for this kind of truck traffic. What we would like to do is, instead of moving all of the waste by truck, let's cut down on our fuel costs - and cut down on the wear and tear on your roads - by moving it by barge," Hoopes said.
GreenHunter officials say their process is safe and their provisions to control any potential spills meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specifications.
During both the June and July meetings, members of the Wheeling Planning Commission declined to consider GreenHunter's application because they required additional information from the company.
However, in August, commissioners Barry Crow, Thomas McCulloch, Don Atkinson and Russell Jebbia voted to approve the plant, while Commissioner John Clarke voted against it. Commissioner Michael Leo recused himself from voting, citing a conflict of interest. Commissioner James Mauck - serving in the role of chairman due to the absence of regular Chairman Howard Monroe - did not vote, as the chairman normally only votes to break a tie.
Since the August approval, however, GreenHunter has been waiting to get word on whether the Coast Guard will allow barging of the frack waste. No visible construction or demolition has taken place at the site.
Jack said the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will do a "walk-through" inspection of the plant once it is up and running. However, DEP officials recently said GreenHunter does not need a permit from the agency.
Along with the protesters the two primary opponents to the GreenHunter facility are Wheeling City Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, who lives in and represents Warwood, and Ben Stout, a Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor.
"I don't think that a facility like this belongs near a residential area. Too many people are too close - and the stuff is way too nasty," Stout said. "This stuff is hazardous waste."
Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the brine GreenHunter wants to recycle in Warwood can contain radioactive radium and radon. Though radium, uranium and radon are considered radioactive, Jack said these elements will be minuscule in volume. He also said the company's workers will wear radiation detectors while on the job.
This is not good enough for warriors Erin Bowers and Kate Marshall.
"There are going to be toxic, radioactive chemicals in that water they are bringing in by truck. What if there is a spill?" Bowers said.
"As a parent of Warwood children, I do not feel the Wheeling Planning Commission planned for my children's future," Marshall said. "This is going to hurt residents, hurt property values and hurt our health."
"I don't want to drink radiation," added Peters Run Road resident Mark Eddy.
The U.S. Coast Guard recently accepted public comments regarding whether fracking waste can be shipped on inland waterways by barge, but has yet to make a decision.
Stout took his fight to Charleston, as he testified to the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources. He said arsenic, barium and bromides are some of the potentially hazardous compounds Stout said GreenHunter could be trucking into the site. He also does not believe the DEP will oversee the project.
Jack has said a 40-foot-wide easement that crosses the trail gives the company the right to use the pipeline that runs underneath it to load treated water onto barges for transport, despite that strip of land being zoned residential.
However, Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron maintains GreenHunter will need a zone change to use this pipeline. They believe the area of the Wheeling Heritage Trail, under which the pipeline runs, is zoned for residential use, rather than industrial or commercial use.
Either way, both sides agree GreenHunter will need to present "Phase 2" to a future planning commission meeting if it is going to barge the frack waste.