TL Photo / ROBERT A. DEFRANK During a meeting of Belmont County Commissioners, Bev Reed of Bridgeport, a member of Concerned Ohio River Residents, shows photos of a study of the activities of the Austin Waste Management Plant Master at Martins Ferry.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Times Leader is presenting today through Friday a look back at the past year with the Top 10 Eastern Ohio Stories of 2021, as selected by the newspaper’s editorial staff.

MARTINS FERRY – Environmental activists have spoken out throughout 2021, primarily to voice concerns about the natural gas and oil industry.

Members of local groups, including concerned residents of the Ohio River, have spoken publicly in a few settings. Not only have they visited the Belmont County Commissioners Council and Martins Ferry City Council on several occasions, but they also hosted their own forums where panelists spoke to attendees.

CORR member Jill Hunkler of Barnesville approached the Commissioners about the Austin Master Services waste management facility at Martins Ferry.

“We have worked with a coalition of local, state and national environmental groups to bring attention to this dangerous installation,” Hunkler said. “They deal with the fracking waste.”

Hunkler said the plant had documented violations, issues with worker safety, and added that there were concerns about its proximity to a nearby sports field. The plant is located along the Ohio River on First Street at Martins Ferry. Hunkler also said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had not drafted sufficient regulations for such facilities and asked commissioners to speak to a fire chief from outside the region who challenged these operations. .

Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Stephanie O’Grady said by email that all oil and gas waste treatment facilities must comply with the law and the revised Ohio code.

The owners of Austin Masters initially made no comment. But as CORR members, including Bev Reed of Bridgeport and Reverend Michael Ziebarth of Martins Ferry, continued to attend public meetings and talk about the plant, the company released a statement in October, and executives of the city benefited from a tour of the facility. .

Austin Master Services spokesperson Christopher Martin said the Martins Ferry fracking waste treatment facility has made $ 2 million in upgrades and is informing the city’s fire department of its plans emergency response. Martin said the waste processed in the building, which was once part of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, gets there wet.

“It’s important to know that all waste that arrives at our facility is wet – this means the material has to go through a process similar to that at the local wastewater treatment facility. Water is removed from the material through various stages and then dried. Once it is dried, our team prepares the material for removal to a landfill or radioactive waste facility ”, he said.

Martin also said the company was working on the issues reported by the ODNR.

“We are committed to improving our process and have a very close relationship with ODNR. That said, our team is currently working to comply with the recommended actions ”, he said. “It’s important to point out that ODNR reports present a snapshot over time and if someone reads all of the reports you can see the actions taken by our team – in fact, you can see that ODNR includes improvements made by one report to the next. “

One of CORR’s main concerns has been to protect the city’s drinking water from possible contamination of the aquifer from which the city’s water treatment plant draws. CORR is concerned that Austin Master and the waste it receives could impact underground wellfields. He also pointed out that the facility is located in the city’s water source protection area.

Martin said Austin Master Services complies with ODNR regulations regarding waste containment. And Martins Ferry mayor John Davies had the city’s water tested for radium, which he now plans to do on a regular basis. Tests showed a radium level below drinking water limits set by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Davies said.

In addition to the focus on Austin Master, Hunkler and other environmentalists have raised objections to the New Jersey-based Omni Energy Group’s saltwater injection well site at the intersection of the United States. United 40 and Ohio 331. Since the drilling permit was issued in late 2020, work on the facilities has been ongoing despite local objections that the area is heavily trafficked and many government sites, residences, and water centers. education can be found nearby.

Hunkler mentioned an accidental fluid spill at the site and said construction has hampered and potentially endangered neighboring residents.

And they suggested that the development of PTT Global Chemical America’s proposed ethane cracking plant at Dilles Bottom now seems unlikely. Citing financial analyzes that indicate the plastics market and economy are not favorable for a new cracker plant at this time, they said the facility will cause pollution and unnecessary proliferation of plastics.

Hunkler spoke out in favor of alternatives such as regenerative agriculture and hemp production.

Belmont County Commissioner JP Dutton said the board is open to any new information, but said PTTGCA will make its decision based on its own analysis.

“I think if that happens … it will be the most efficient plant … across the United States”, he said.

Dutton said the commissioners were in regular contact with the ODNR, raising concerns and following up on incidents such as the release of fluid.

“We don’t just focus on oil and gas when it comes to economic development,” he said. “We are more diverse than that. … A potential project that meets all environmental standards, which will create at least 350 permanent jobs which would be a significant influx of jobs in the county at six-figure wages.

PTTGCA said it continues to seek an investment partner on the potential project and remains committed to building an ethane cracker in Belmont County.

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