But industry officials who advocate waterway transport said barges are the safest, and cheapest, way to move the wastewater. They counter that other industrial materials, some toxic, are already moved on barges and question why the drilling industry should be treated differently.
The Coast Guard plans to publish its proposal on transporting wastewater in the Federal Register. Then, the public and the industry will have an opportunity to weigh in.
But there has already been confusion at inland ports in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Ohio about the issue.
John Jack, vice president of business development and operations for GreenHunter Water, a company that handles wastewater for major oil and gas companies, said "nobody told us that we couldn't" move shale wastewater by barge.
GreenHunter had planned to start using barges before the end of the year because they believed the process was allowed, Jack said.
James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, an agency that advocates for waterway transport, said using barges is a good idea. "The more that it can be moved on waterways, the less wear and tear of roads," he said, adding that barges also produce less air pollution than trucks.