HYDRAULIC fracking - using water to tap into the deposits of natural gas and oil thousands of feet below the surface - has been a godsend to Appalachia's economy and America's energy independence.
Natural gas also helps the environment, and many coal-fired electricity generating plants are switching to gas in hopes of long-range savings.
But disposing of processing the contaminated wastewater from the wells is a problem. The U.S. Coast Guard wants to allow barges on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to transport the water to disposal sites in Louisiana, Ohio and Texas.
Incredibly, this drew protest from Environmental America, a group that split off from the Ralph Nader-inspired Public Interest Research Group.
"This is just the latest outrage from fracking companies. Think about it: Filling barges with thousands of barrels of toxic wastewater and sending them down a river that provides the drinking water for millions of people? You can see why people are concerned," said Courtney Abrams, clean water program director for Environment America.
Actually, one cannot see the group's point. According to the National Waterways Foundation, which promotes barges, such transportation is safer and uses less energy than rail or trucking.
According to the foundation:
* Barges can move a ton of cargo 576 miles on one gallon of fuel, rail trains 413 miles and trucks 155 miles.
* For every barge-related fatality there are 22.7 rail fatalities and 155 truck fatalities.
* For every barge-related injury, there are 125.2 rail injuries and 2,171.5 truck injuries.
The only drawback to barges is that they are slow.
Barges are the most natural of these three modes of transportation. Environmentalists who promote construction of wind turbines to capture the wind should embrace a far more proven technique to use water power.
America already uses barges to transport coal, gravel, toxic chemicals and even radioactive material with few problems. Unless the goal is to stop all fracking, environmentalists should support and even demand the wastewater be barged.