Martins Ferry leaders tour Austin Master Services frack waste processing plant
MARTINS FERRY — Mayor John Davies and other city officials got to tour the frack waste processing facility, Austin Master Services, this week.
Davies toured the facility on Tuesday with city Service Director Andy Sutak and Ohio Department of Natural Resources inspectors.
He said the facility looked clean and tidy, but he noted company officials were aware that they were going to receive visitors. Davies said he believes the plant is “operating inside the rules set forth” by the state.
“We toured the whole plant while in operation and the workers all seem knowledgeable about their jobs,” he said. “I did not see liquid on the floor or outside the containment areas.”
Davies said they got to see where the frack waste comes in by truck and is stored before processing, and where it gets processed and dried before being taken out of the facility. The waste is packaged in plastic bags before being put into zippered plastic bags on rail cars and taken to Texas, he said. The point of processing the materials is that it makes it less radioactive.
Chris Martin, spokesman for Austin Master Services, said the second container is an IP-1 rated container, which means it is protected against vertical water falling on it.
“As soon as the waste is placed in the container the (department of transportation) has jurisdiction and these containers meet their requirements. The waste is transported to a low-level radioactive waste landfill in Texas. I am unsure of the exact location, but there are three locations in the country,” Martin said.
Inside the facility Davies learned water used to wash workers’ uniforms is also processed. He noted trenches used at the facility are sealed; however, during the visit inspectors noticed one trench that was a bit of a mystery — neither the facility staff nor inspectors could determine where it led to. That was one issue that needed fixed.
Out of an abundance of caution, Davies proposed to City Council that the city have one of its own monitoring wells installed. This way if there were ever a spill or disaster near the city’s water wells, the city could be prepared.
“We could catch it halfway and have time to react to it,” he said.
He added the new monitoring well would be much more shallow, perhaps 10 feet deep or less. But the city would consult with an expert to determine what the correct depth would be, he said.
In comparison, the city’s water wells draw water from the aquifer that begins about 35 feet below the surface. The city’s wells start pumping from an even deeper threshold of about 80 feet.
“I believe it would be in the city’s best interest to have our own monitoring well so we can have it tested as we see fit,” he said, adding it should be located at the city’s most southern point from its well fields.
Regarding what all the city will monitor for, Davies said the city would consult with experts on the matter and contract with an outside laboratory for testing.
Austin Master Services has its own monitoring wells on site.
“They have four monitoring wells that were put in by Austin Master by a third party, and a third party reads it,” he said.
Davies added the trucks’ radiation levels are checked before entering the facility. The drivers’ shoes also are checked before leaving the facility.
The tour was precipitated by concerns raised by the Concerned Ohio River Residents, a group of activists who believe the facility could be harmful to the city’s drinking water source, its aquifer, if there were a disaster, natural or manmade.