WHEELING - Members of the Wheeling Water Warriors asked the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health on Tuesday to take a stand against GreenHunter Water's plans to open a natural gas frack water recycling plant in Warwood.
GreenHunter already owns the property on North 28th Street, but Wheeling officials maintain it must receive a zone change from the city for a portion of property containing Ohio River docks in order to use the site to load waste on barges. Company officials have estimated up to 30 trucks per day will bring wastewater to the site, where it will be stored in tanks. They hope to eventually place it on barges for further transport after it is recycled.
Some people are concerned about the hazardous chemicals and radioactive elements contained in the water and about it possibly spilling into the Ohio River or the neighborhood, both of which are about a mile north of the city's water treatment plant. GreenHunter also must receive permission to transport the water via barges from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Office of Management and Budget and the Coast Guard.
Board Chairman Dr. John Holloway said he personally is concerned about the water, but the board needs scientific evidence showing the impact such a facility could have on public health in order to take a position on the issue. Right now, he said, there is no such evidence.
"Personally, I recognize the importance of the issue, and it is very troubling for me speaking as an individual and as a Wheeling resident. I get my water from the river, too," Holloway said. "As far as this board of health, we are in no position to make a scientific determination about safety - we don't have those resources. To make a judgment ... I don't think we are in position to say it's OK or not OK. We cannot go by anecdotes. We have to go by science, and the science is lacking."
Health Officer Dr. William Mercer said the health department has been researching drilling-related issues and keeping an eye on what has occurred in other states.
"We're in a bit of a Catch-22. The fracking is here and it's ongoing. We're concerned about all the water being used and, ironically, here's a plant that would reduce the amount of water being used - it helps the situation. ... Ironically, a plant that reuses water instead of putting it into injection wells, that sounds like a good idea, but can it be safe?" Mercer said.
He added the health department is partnering with West Virginia University in an air quality study on drilling sites and their impact on people's health via data from local hospitals. This study does not take into account the impact on water, he added. The results are not expected to be ready anytime soon.
Board members were invited to attend a community meeting on the matter set for 7 p.m. May 22 in City Council chambers at the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.