WHEELING - Dan Kleeh of Warwood knows many neighbors are nervous about GreenHunter Water's planned frack water recycling plant at North 28th Street, but he seemed to have no such worries during a Wednesday stroll along the Wheeling Heritage Trail.
"I don't see what the big deal is," he said while standing near the projected construction site, which runs directly adjacent to the trail. "If they can give 17 people jobs, that is a good thing."
After announcing his company's $750,000 purchase of the former Seidler's Oil Service nearly a year ago, GreenHunter Vice President of Business Development John Jack originally hoped to have the frack water plant up and running late last year. However, he said Wednesday the company is still waiting for the Coast Guard to approve barging of frack waste on rivers such as the Ohio.
Photo by Casey Junkins - Dan Kleeh of Warwood walks by the site where GreenHunter Water plans to construct its frack water recycling plant along the Wheeling Heritage Trail on Wednesday.
"Without the barging, this facility does not make any sense," he said. "We fully plan to build out the facility, once we have the approval from the U.S. Coast Guard."
The Coast Guard must sift through many public comments made on the matter before issuing a ruling, but Jack said he has "no doubt" the agency will ultimately approve the plan.
Additionally, Jack cited winter weather as a reason GreenHunter has not yet done any work at the Warwood site. GreenHunter also needs a road use permit from the state Division of Highways because of sight clearance concerns, but Jack said all of these matters will be resolved.
"These are issues we have to work through with every development," he said.
Even though some question the viability of GreenHunter's Wheeling project, the company sold some of its Texas assets for $3.9 million this month to allow officials to focus more on Appalachia.
"GreenHunter is continuing its previously announced game plan to divest of all non-core assets - and focusing 100 percent of our attention on the explosive growth and higher margins we are experiencing in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays of West Virginia and Ohio," said Kirk Trosclair, GreenHunter's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Following significant public discourse last year, the Wheeling Planning Commission approved "Phase 1" of GreenHunter's plan to transform the former Seidler's into a facility that will accept and recycle water used in local fracking operations. GreenHunter still needs to present "Phase 2" of the project, which involves barging the frack water, for commission consideration.
Even if GreenHunter builds its plant as approved in Phase 1 - and even if the Coast Guard approves the barging - the company may still have another problem. Wheeling city officials, including Assistant Director of the Economic and Community Development Department Tom Connelly, believe GreenHunter will need a zoning change to use the barging terminals in the river. Connelly said that although GreenHunter's main site is zoned for "industrial" use, the adjacent Heritage Trail and land leading into the river is zoned for "residential" use.
Jack, however, disputes this. He said GreenHunter has a "utility easement" that allows them to pump material from the main site to the barging area.
A nearby resident who requested not to be identified said she neither opposes nor favors the project, but wants to stay informed on the matter.
"We are trying to stay neutral. If they move in here, we are going to have to get along with them," she said.
The resident also said the GreenHunter project is a relatively small part of the oil and natural gas boom taking place in the Upper Ohio Valley.
"People need to understand that this is not just about GreenHunter. It's about all of the water being used at all of these fracking sites," she said.