Coast Guard Seeks Comment On Barge Transport Of Frack Water

The Coast Guard is seeking comment on a proposed policy letter that would authorize the barge transport of hydraulic fracturing waste water, known as “shale gas extraction waste water” or SGEWW, in bulk.  The policy letter specifies the information that the Coast Guard may seek from the barge owner, the conditions under which a barge owner may be granted a Certificate of Inspection endorsement or letter to transport SGEWW and the additional requirements that may be imposed in such a Certificate.  Without a Certificate of Inspection endorsement or letter, the barge transportation of SGEWW in bulk is prohibited. 

SGEWW is not “listed cargo” identified in various Coast Guard lists of liquid hazardous materials that are pre-approved for transport, nor can it be treated as “listed cargo” because of the variability of the chemical composition from one load to another.  In order to obtain approval to transport SGEWW, the barge owner must chemically analyze the SGEWW and demonstrate that the radioactive concentrations in the waste do not exceed the limits established in the policy.  Records of the results must be maintained for two years and would be public information subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Coast Guard may also require the barge owner to have the barge surveyed when switching between carrying SGEWW and other cargo.  The survey must show that any residual contamination of the barge resulting from the transport of SGEWW is within limits established by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s regulations.

Finally, because of the presence of radioactive isotopes in the SGEWW, barges used to transport SGEWW may accumulate radon over time.  The authorization to transport SGEWW requires the barge owner to demonstrate that it has appropriate venting and procedural safeguards in place to protect personnel from potentially dangerous exposure to radon.

Comments on the proposed policy will be accepted through November 29, 2013.  The Federal Register notice specifically requests public comment regarding the disclosure of proprietary information to the Coast Guard and the applicability of the testing requirements for radioactive materials detailed in the proposed policy. For more information, see 78 Fed. Reg. 64905 (Oct. 30, 2013).

Kathy Milenkovski is an energy and environmental lawyer. She helps clients comply with complex state and federal regulatory programs and represents clients in litigation, appearing in administrative, state and federal courts.
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