The Ohio River valley is lush in the spring. The eastern Ohio River, one of America's most economically vital waterways, winds through the rolling green foothills of Appalachia as it ambles past small towns and cities in Ohio and West Virginia.
The valley has been heavily industrialized for decades. Coal-burning power plants, chemical processing facilities and mills dot the riverside. In 2012, the Ohio River was ranked the nation's most polluted waterway, according to government data compiled by Environment America. Elisa Young is determined to keep the river from getting worse.
Young, an activist living in southeast Ohio, sits in a car outside a fracking wastewater transfer station nestled in the center of a residential neighborhood on the riverside in New Matamoras, Ohio. Trucks laden with liquid waste from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," oil-and-gas drilling operations pull out of the parking lot one by one. The trucks are bound for injection wells, where the wastewater will be pumped deep beneath the earth for permanent disposal.
The Ohio River is easily visible behind the transfer station. For the facility's operator, Texas-based GreenHunter Energy, the location is perfect. The firm was one of the first to propose transporting fracking wastewater on the Ohio River by barge. GreenHunter Energy wants to turn the New Matamoras facility, along with another property upriver near Wheeling, West Virginia, into waste terminals, where barges carrying up to 4.5 million gallons of waste could unload their cargo. The proposal has sparked national headlines and currently awaits federal approval.