(Akron, OH) Last week, two complaints challenging the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Section 10 Permits for barge unloading docks on the Ohio River to service frack waste processing and disposal facilities were challenged by Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services on behalf of FreshWater Accountability Project. Attorney John Heer of Fair Shake filed the first complaint for the permitting of an existing barge facility to bring massive amounts of radioactive frack waste to the Deep Rock injection well located across State Route 7 near Marietta, Ohio. This complaint against the USACE Huntington District, filed on December 2, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, cited numerous concerns, including a deficient public hearing that excluded full participation for concerned citizens who questioned the public benefits of barging oil and gas waste. This would include large quantities of frack waste (one report sponsored by the US Coast Guard estimated 60,000 barrels a week), which is known to contain radioactive elements and unknown chemicals kept secret by the industry.

The second complaint was filed on December 7 also in U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio challenging a Section 10 permit issued by the USACE Pittsburgh office. That permit would allow a barge dock to be built in Martins Ferry, Ohio to service the 4K Industrial Park and associated Austin Masters facility. Both facilities handle large amounts of radioactive frack waste as well as other hazardous materials for processing and disposal. The complaint is seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. No public hearing was held for this permit, violating several federal laws which require public notice and invite public comment. This complaint also highlighted the lack of sufficient environmental review to comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.

Advocacy groups are questioning the reason for allowing the shipment of frack waste with unknown amounts of potentially toxic chemicals on a major drinking water source already compromised with “forever” PFAS chemicals and other toxins. These concerns are emphasized by Lea Harper, managing director of the Plaintiff, FreshWater Accountability Project (FWAP): “Rather than allow shipment of yet another potentially deadly product on the river, FreshWater believes the time is now to start cleaning up the river rather than exposing it to the hazardous release of radioactive isotopes and unknown chemicals on such a massive scale that barging would bring. We see the agencies continuing to toss the responsibility to each other so that no one agency is accountable for bad decisions, which is what we consider this decision to be between the USACE and the USCG. We believe the USEPA should be looking into this decision to barge frack waste on such an important drinking water source, especially because of the radioactive and proprietary elements involved, and the fact that it will encourage more toxic frack waste processing plants to proliferate along the river. Policy decisions like this one to allow barging of frack waste have been shown to create more long-term harm than short-term good, so we do not see the public benefit at all.”
Ben Hunkler of Concerned Ohio River Residents (CORR) stated, “USACE has categorically ignored overwhelming public opposition to the barge dock facilities in question. Local residents fear the potentially catastrophic consequences of transporting and processing hazardous, radioactive waste along the Ohio River, yet our concerns are neither heard nor addressed.”

Robin Blakeman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) had this to say: “We applaud the work of our allies who filed these important legal actions. We believe that the three proposed oil and gas barge docks in the Ohio River Valley will bring a large increase in oil and gas waste to our region. The toxic and radioactive components of oil and gas waste could be a serious emerging source of pollution for the River – which is the tap water source for 5 million United States citizens. The vast externalized cost of doing business for the oil and gas industry continues to amount to increasing health costs and risks to our ecosystem, and it is a shame that the US Army Corps of Engineers is not taking the expressed concerns of citizens about these critical issues seriously.”