(Interactive story map from OVEC found here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/e371e0c2b0824362b4329a28ecef2656)
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 981-mile Ohio River, which supplies drinking water to more than five million people, is already one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. But there's a new risk for water quality on the horizon that may further jeopardize environmental health and public safety.
An uptick in hydraulic fracturing across the region requires industry to transport and store large amounts chemical-and-sand-infused wastewater. As a result, the Ohio River and the surrounding area has become the latest battleground in the environmental and safety debate over hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Under the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard, barges are allowed to move wastewater along the Ohio and other navigable rivers. As the industry looks for new places to dump fracking waste, companies are constructing new and repurposing preexisting barge facilities to transfer traditional and nontraditional waste from hydraulic fracturing sites to inject underground into old and empty oil and gas wells for long-term storage.
Because Ohio's geology is more hospitable than Pennsylvania's for injection storage, as is its law for creating new storage wells, waste from fracking operations in Pennsylvania is often barged downstream to injection well sites, many of which are located in Ohio.
"The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission said in a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard that the wastewater "can pose an immediate threat to drinking water utilities if released to the river." — Published by AP in December 2013 when the Coast Guard was considering the proposal to use barges to transport fracking waste.
As the tap water source for five million people in the Ohio River Valley, it is imperative for regulatory agencies to at least conduct impact study of these waste facilities before permitting or allowing them to operate. As long as companies are permitted to transport hazardous waste on the Ohio River, there is one we thing we know for sure: drinking water contamination is only one spill away.