Relay aims to raise awareness of river issues
HUNTINGTON — On the side of Dennis Lambert’s canoe is a sticker: “Water is Life, Keep It Clean.”
And that’s more than just a slogan. Lambert, of Pedro, Ohio, went from Chesapeake to below Ironton on Monday and Tuesday the old-fashioned way — by solo paddling a canoe while transporting a baton on an Ohio River journey.
Lambert’s day-long efforts were just one part of the Great Ohio River Relay, a relay that began in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Sept. 14, and which was meant to travel the 981-mile length of the Ohio River but which was forced to end early in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, on Wedesday after 11 days having traveled 341 miles through four states. The human-powered journey of the baton encompassed bicycling, kayaking, canoeing and running.
Organized by The Wheeling Water Warriors, the Great Ohio River Relay was put together by Wheeling area residents Eddie and Robin Mahonen, who are concerned about the environmental and human health impacts of deep shale gas fracking and, in particular, the proposed barging of toxic, radioactive fracking wastewater on the Ohio River.
In Wheeling, Texas-based GreenHunter Resources, which is also putting in a 1,200-barrels-a-day oilfield brine disposal facility in Washington County, Ohio, (just upstream from Marietta), has met requirements through the Wheeling Planning Commission to put a hydraulic fracking wastewater plan off W.Va. 2 in Warwood. Phase two of the Wheeling plant is to barge in fracking wastewater on the Ohio River to its facility.
Lambert, who is 39, and an active hunter, canoeist and outdoorsman, said he wanted to get involved because he is concerned about water and air quality along the river he loves.
“I’ve lived in Lawrence County off and on for 20 years, and I just believe that fracking affects us in so many ways. We are focusing today on the Ohio River, but so many other tributaries are also impacted by fracking,” Lambert said. “... I just think there are so many better ways to get energy. Wind power has improved like 150 percent over the past five years, and solar power, the efficiency has improved over 50 percent in the past two years. Our country used to be innovators, and we need to get back in being innovators in energy creation.”
Robin Mahonen started the Wheeling Water Warriors and the Great Ohio River Relay effort after hearing a radio story back in April about how GreenHunter had applied for a permit to bring fracking wastewater from around the country to her hometown of Warwood, just upstream of Wheeling’s water intake.
The Mahonens wanted a project to bring people together along the Ohio River, which provides drinking water for more than five million people, so they started networking with other concerned citizens along the waterway.
“Anything that happens to this river affects a great number of us, so we need to make sure that our drinking water in the Ohio stays as pure as possible,” Mahonen said. “We have been overwhelmed by the response. We’ve already had more than 100 people volunteer to carry the baton, and every time that baton leaves again I feel like a mother sending a kindergartner off to school.”
On Monday, more than a dozen members of the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition gathered at the foot of the Robert C. Byrd bridge for a short, music-and-message-filled rally before local cyclists Jeffrey A. Muth Jr. and Dan Taylor, both of Huntington, cycled the baton over the bridge to the Chesapeake Boat Ramp.
On Sunday, Muth, and fellow area residents Assen and Nik Popoff rode their bicycles from Mason County to Huntington.
OVEC organizer Viv Stockman read a letter from a member who urged the U.S. a more progressive stance on energy.
“The U.S. can go a long way toward moving toward the sun and the wind before worrying about this,” Stockman said. “We need to adjust our human appetites for energy, and there is much more we can do in moving in that direction. We need to move forward now.”
John Jack is the vice president of business development and operations for GreenHunter Water in Appalachia. In August, GreenHunter Water was approved by the Wheeling Planning Commission to move forward with its hydraulic fracturing wastewater recycling plant off W.Va. 2 in Warwood.
Jack said right now the project is out to bid, and they hope to start construction in October.
He said GreenHunter will be working with companies throughout the region to encourage the producers to recycle their fracking fluids.
“In the past people were protesting injection wells even though they are necessary for an oil and gas and natural gas operation,” Jack said. “You have to handle the brine water, and GreenHunter wanted to take it a step further and encourage producers to recycle their fluids. It’s a pretty simple process. We clean it and give it back to them. If we take in 3,000 barrels a day, we’d like to give back 3,000 barrels. That would be our goal, and for every barrel brought in it is one less barrel a day that needs to be extracted from the Ohio River.”
Jack said the second phase of their operation does include moving fracking wastewater by barge. That is pending approval through the Wheeling Commission as well as the Coast Guard, he said.
Jack said they feel like the river is the safest method of transportation as more product can be moved more efficiently by removing trucks from the road.
“If people are so concerned with the products we are barging then they are not very in tune with the products on the waterways today,” Jack said. “There are products that are 1,000 times more hazardous than our materials. There’s hydrochloric acid, and crude oil, and an entire list of chemicals being barged up and down the river. It is the safest way to transport products.”
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