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EPA to Crack Down on Frackers that Use Deisel

Oct 27, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

It looks like the federal government will be regulating some gas drilling operations that utilize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved to require a permit when any company uses diesel fuel as a component of its fracking fluid.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – deemed by fracking opponents the “Halliburton Loophole.” As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids.

It is known, however that some drillers use diesel fuel in their fracking fluid, which by law they are supposed to report to the EPA. As the NRDC points out, diesel fuel contains substances that are known to cause cancer or other serious illnesses–benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. These chemicals have been found in fracturing fluids at levels that exceed drinking water standards.

Earlier this year, a group of organizations, including the NRDC, sent a letter to the EPA asking the agency to fully enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act when it comes to hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel. Now, the NRDC is reporting:

“Recent investigation by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that companies have been using diesel in hydraulic fracturing–without reporting it to the EPA. Now any hydraulic fracturing jobs using diesel will be subject to federal standards for well safety to best protect underground sources of drinking water.”

How effective the EPA move will be remains to be seen. According to the NRDC, two oil and gas industry associations are already suing the EPA over the permit requirement.

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