OMB Reviewing Proposal to Allow Flowback Water to be Shipped on Barges

In March 2013, the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) submitted a proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to allow the shipment of flowback and produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations on barges. The OMB is currently evaluating this proposal.

The proposal is the subject of significant interest as parties debate the merits of using barges to transport this material.

Flowback and produced water generated at the well that is not recycled or reused in fracturing operations must be transported off-site for disposal. Such transportation typically occurs via truck or train to treatment or disposal facilities capable of accepting the shipment. The transport of this material can be costly and significantly increase the number of trucks on the roads.

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) discourages publicly owned treatment works (“POTWs”) from accepting flowback and produced water, limiting disposal options in a state with a paucity of underground injection wells. As a result, this water typically is shipped to neighboring Ohio for disposal, a state with significantly higher disposal capacity.

Proponents of the USCG’s proposal argue that if barges are used to ship flowback and produced water on the Ohio River, the number of trucks on the roads would be significantly reduced. They further argue that the use of barges would improve public safety by reducing congestion on the roads and increase the cost-effectiveness of hydraulic fracturing by reducing disposal costs.

If the OMB approves the proposal, the USCG will move forward with formal rulemaking. The proposed rule will then be published in the Federal Register and subject to public comment.

This post was prepared by Heather Corken ( or 713 651 8386) and Ted Bosquez ( or 724 416 0423) from Fulbright's Environmental Law Practice Group.