The disposal of large volumes of wastewater produced during shale gas extraction has posed challenges for companies, regulators, and communities, especially in the Marcellus Shale region.

In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard received two requests for approval for the bulk shipment of wastewater resulting from hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania and the northern Appalachia area. 
On October 30, 2013, in the Federal Register, the Coast Guard published proposed rules to allow barges to transport wastewater in bulk; thus, providing companies an alternative to storing the waste at the drilling site or transporting it by rail or truck to remote facilities.

The Coast Guard regulates the shipment of hazardous materials on the nation’s rivers and classifies cargoes for bulk shipment. 

[U]nder certain circumstances a bulk liquid hazardous material may be transported by a tank vessel if it is a ‘listed cargo’ (listed in any of several specified tables in Coast Guard regulations, [wastewater], however, cannot be treated as a ‘listed cargo’ because the specific chemical composition of [wastewater] varies from one consignment load to another and may contain one or more hazardous materials . . . , including radioactive isotopes such as radium-226 and radium-228.

Under the proposed rules, in order to carry wastewater, a barge owner must request approval from the Coast Guard prior to shipping, provide additional information and comply with new policies. 
To address concerns about the shipment of wastewater, the Coast Guard has issued a proposed policy letter entitled “Carriage of Conditionally Permitted Shale Gas Extraction Waste Water in Bulk,” which specifies the conditions under which a barge owner may request and be granted a Certificate of Inspection endorsement in order to transport wastewater. 
This proposed policy letter will be open for public comment through November 29, 2013. The Coast Guard specifically requests information about disclosing proprietary information to the government and testing the wastewater for radioactive material.


This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright’s Energy Practice Group.