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Ohio River alert

The Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, near Point State Park.

The confluence of the Monongahela River and Allegheny River, where the Ohio River begins at “the Point” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The confluence of the Monongahela River and Allegheny River, where the Ohio River begins at “the Point” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Ohio River then flows past many industrial sites, old and new, like the Shell Cracker Plant now under construction in Monaca, Pa., which will crack ethane to make plastic, for decades to come. More cracker plants are proposed further down the Ohio River as well as huge underground storage caverns (some even under the Ohio River south of Wheeling, WV) for an "energy hub", with continuing and proposed heavy investments from foreign entities. 

The Shell Cracker Plant under construction in Monaca, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, will “crack” ethane from Marcellus shale and Utica shale gas production in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia tri-state into plastic “nurdles.”

The Shell Cracker Plant under construction in Monaca, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, will “crack” ethane from Marcellus shale and Utica shale gas production in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia tri-state into plastic “nurdles.”

Shale gas drilling and fracking has been "unbridled" over the past 15 years, bordering on 'wild west' at times, all around the Ohio River Valley in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. It will likely require well over 100,000 new shale gas in the tri-state area to produce ethane for plastic, and to fill pipelines with methane, ethane and propane for exports to all points on the compass. 

Site of the Revolution Pipeline explosion, not far from the Shell Cracker Plant. Pipelines have been installed on steep slopes in a tri-state area inundated with record-setting, heavy rainfall in 2018, due to climate change. Many of these pipeline routes are undermined from coal mining and subject to mine subsidence.

Site of the Revolution Pipeline explosion, not far from the Shell Cracker Plant. Pipelines have been installed on steep slopes in a tri-state area inundated with record-setting, heavy rainfall in 2018, due to climate change. Many of these pipeline routes are undermined from coal mining and subject to mine subsidence.

As I personally witnessed 10 years ago, lax regulations on the handling of wastewater from fracking operations can and will adversely affect not only private water wells, but also public water systems, as it did to ours in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, when frackers were hauling their flowback into Public Owned Treatment Works (POTW's) for disposal, with inadequate processing before it went into the Monongahela River. This debacle led to water quality issues including taste, odor, trihalomethane level exceedances (one of them is chloroform), and an eventual switch from chlorination to chloramination by our water company.

Municipal authorities in McKeesport and Clairton liked getting a nickle per gallon (about $200 per tanker truckload) to lightly treat and dispose of fracking waste into the Monongahela River, trouble is that it messed up their sewage treatment microbial process and created trihalomethanes when water from the Mon River was chlorinated for use as tapwater for over 100,000 residents of Pittsburgh’s South Hills communities.

Municipal authorities in McKeesport and Clairton liked getting a nickle per gallon (about $200 per tanker truckload) to lightly treat and dispose of fracking waste into the Monongahela River, trouble is that it messed up their sewage treatment microbial process and created trihalomethanes when water from the Mon River was chlorinated for use as tapwater for over 100,000 residents of Pittsburgh’s South Hills communities.

The shale gas industry's lifeblood is water, since it requires 4-million gallons or more to hydraulically fracture one Marcellus shale or Utica shale well. The industry's biggest problem is getting rid of the toxic fluids that flowback from those fracked wells -- usually over 1-million gallons or more initially from each well -- with it getting trucked long distances to Ohio injection wells, partially processed for re-use (again using long truck trips adding to diesel air pollution), dumped at grandfathered facilities into tributaries of the Ohio River, 'moonlight' dumped, or used for winter snow and ice treatments by "brining" roadways. Some is even being processed and marketed as de-icer at big box stores!

Worstell Impoundment Dam in Cecil Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania where fracking waste fluids were stored and evaporated. A cancer cluster among younger individuals has appeared in that township and Canon-McMillan school district, with a rare cancer known as Ewing sarcoma and other cancers.

Worstell Impoundment Dam in Cecil Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania where fracking waste fluids were stored and evaporated. A cancer cluster among younger individuals has appeared in that township and Canon-McMillan school district, with a rare cancer known as Ewing sarcoma and other cancers.

Some of the greatest concerns about fracking waste (liquid and solid drill cuttings) relates to its NORM and TENORM radioactivity from Radium 226 and 228, with Ra226 being water soluble and of the greatest concern. Flowback from these shale wells is also very salty (the Marcellus layer was an ancient ocean) which aggravated those trihalomethane levels previously mentioned, also containing heavy metals and spent frac fluids (which aren't always fully disclosed and identifiable with a CAS number). A large percentage of frac fluids are endocrine disruptors.

Analysis of frac waste fluids that were disposed of in 2009 at Liquid Assets Disposal in Wheeling, West Virginia. These fluids were partially processed before being discharged into the Ohio River. Image courtesy of Ben Stout.

Analysis of frac waste fluids that were disposed of in 2009 at Liquid Assets Disposal in Wheeling, West Virginia. These fluids were partially processed before being discharged into the Ohio River. Image courtesy of Ben Stout.

Back to the Ohio River: The closest thing the Ohio River has to a river basin commission is ORSANCO and their website states further: "The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), was established on June 30, 1948 to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin. ORSANCO is an interstate commission representing eight states and the federal government. Member states include: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia."

A large percentage of frac chemicals are endocrine disruptors, with many formulations still being shrouded as “proprietary” mixes. Without knowing the CAS number for each chemical, it can be nearly impossible to tie water well contamination to hydraulic fracturing, since labs don’t know exactly what to test for.

A large percentage of frac chemicals are endocrine disruptors, with many formulations still being shrouded as “proprietary” mixes. Without knowing the CAS number for each chemical, it can be nearly impossible to tie water well contamination to hydraulic fracturing, since labs don’t know exactly what to test for.

ORSANCO is currently "accepting public comments, and technical and scientific studies and data supporting those comments, starting March 1, 2019 through April 15, 2019, to assist in a public review of the proposed 2019 Revision to its Pollution Control Standards for Discharges to the Ohio River. The public review will include the 45 day comment period, three public hearings, and two webinars."

A towboat with barges moves down the Ohio River near Wheeling, West Virginia.

A towboat with barges moves down the Ohio River near Wheeling, West Virginia.

The first public hearing takes place near Pittsburgh tonight at 6:00PM, Monday April 1st at the "DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh" in Greentree, Pennsylvania, as well as April 4th in Evansville, Illinois and April 8th in Erlanger, Kentucky. You can learn more about commenting remotely or attending these public hearings here: http://www.orsanco.org/programs/pollution-control-standards/

If you can't make it to one of the public hearings, please submit your comments after further study of the issues at hand. It appears the commission is considering whether to allow individual states to opt-out of the overall water pollution discharge regulations ORSANCO already has in place. (UPDATE: Video of the Pittsburgh public hearing on April 1st)

As you can see, we definitely don't want to relax any standards that will lead to further water pollution from industry along the Ohio River.

Here’s to “clean air and pure water” as guaranteed to citizens in the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Bob

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Article I Declaration of Rights Natural Resources and Public Estate Section 27   “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Article I
Declaration of Rights
Natural Resources and Public Estate
Section 27

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

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