Pittsburgh Companies Plan To Barge ‘Produced Water’

Companies in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area are looking to move fracking wastewater by barge.

A $485,000 grant awarded to Guttman Realty Company from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Commonwealth Financing Authority in April will allow retrofitting of Guttman’s terminal along the Monongahela River in Speers, Pa., 43.5 river miles above Pittsburgh’s Point.

The terminal will be modified to accept wastewater from the natural gas industry—called by the industry term “produced water”—by truck to be stored in existing tanks and then taken by barge to a treatment facility in Ohio, according to a grant announcement.

The announcement notes that by using barges to transport the produced water, the impact on highway degradation and congestion will be greatly decreased, providing a much-needed transportation alternative.

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“I am pleased to have been an advocate for this funding,” state Rep. Bud Cook (R-Fayette/Washington) said. “Not only will this grant improve transportation safety, but it will also create a few new jobs. These are the projects to be focusing on in a time when economic recovery is needed.”

Some area environmental groups opposed to fracking have raised concerns about barging the wastewater, fearing potential river contamination if leaks or spills occur.

One of those, the Fresh Water Accountability Project, an Ohio environmental organization focusing on water protection, shared with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act concerning four other sites.

Those documents identified other terminals looking to barge produced water. They are on the Monongahela River at Star City, near Morgantown, W.Va., 98.7 miles upriver from Pittsburgh; on the Ohio River at Bellaire at Mile 93.5; on the Ohio River at Hannibal at Mile 123.1; and the Nicholas Enterprises Inc. terminal on the Allegheny River at Mile 29.6.

Plans called for barging wastewater to unloading terminals owned by Enlink Midstream at Bells Run near Portland, Ohio, and DeepRock Disposal Solutions LLC, in Marietta, Ohio, according to a November 2019 Coast Guard cargo authorization form provided as part of the documentation. DeepRock is a business partner with Comtech Industries, owner of the Bellaire terminal.

“To date, transportation of production water via barge has eluded the Appalachian Basin due to several hurdles,” a Comtech Industries news release posted on its website in December said. “After diligently getting all permits and authorizations approved, the dream finally became a reality. With the recent merger of DeepRock Disposal Solutions and Fountain Quail Energy Services, the combined company operating under the DeepRock name will occupy two well-positioned offload sites for produced water via barge, creating a single touchpoint for all customers. This alternative solution will allow companies to reduce costs by providing them with a more viable option for disposal, with distance previously being a cost concern for many.”

The release further notes that Comtech has more than 30 permits and authorizations in hand and is “in conversation with seven offloading terminals in different stages of development located along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers.”

Guttman Energy Terminal in Belle Vernon, Pa., and the Comtech Industries Terminal in Bellaire, Ohio, will be the initial loading terminals for the barge service.

“A single barge can hold approximately 24,000 barrels of production water, which is equivalent to 220-plus truck loads,” Comtech said. “After receiving a certificate of inspection and an authorization for hauling production water from the United States Coast Guard, we have one barge in possession with access to additional barges for future expansion. The Guttman Energy terminal in Belle Vernon, Pa., is ready to load today with an infrastructure set in place to unload produced water directly from trucks into the barge, with a potential storage tank being constructed on site in the future.”

The Bellaire terminal is in the process of obtaining a permit to load barges straight from storage tanks that will be set on location.

“Due to competing economics with all-in gate fees to haul production water down the river, it sets Bellaire and Belle Vernon apart from other area disposal sites,” Comtech said. “Additionally, we are in conversation with multiple entities to transform existing piping networks into produced fluid networks. With multiple operators already utilizing freshwater lines coming from the Ohio river to feed the frac pad, reversing the flow would allow for produced water to flow from the frac directly into the barge at a local terminal, eliminating truck travel completely. With slight infrastructure changes being the upfront cost, operators would begin to save money with pumping fees and the all-in gate price being the only costs to consider.”