Tuesday, February 01, 2011

House Democrats allege diesel use in fracking operations violates Safe Water Drinking Act

Congressional investigators allege oil and gas companies appear to have violated the Safe Water Drinking Act by injecting millions of gallons of diesel fuel into hydraulic fracturing wells across more than a dozen states. "Fracking" involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into rock formations and has opened previously inaccessible natural gas reserves. "Oil and gas companies acknowledged using diesel fuel in their fracking fluids, but they rejected the House Democrats’ assertion that it was illegal," Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times reports.

"We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought — and no state and federal regulators have issued — permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing," California Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman and two other Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, wrote in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. "This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act." The oil and gas companies counter that EPA has never developed rules and procedures to regulate the use of diesel fuel in fracking operations. In the letter, Waxman, Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette and Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey write they were "unable to draw definitive conclusions about the potential impact of these injections on public health or the environment."

"Everyone understands that EPA is at least interested in regulating fracking," Matt Armstrong, a lawyer with the Washington firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents several oil and gas companies, told Zeller. "Whether the EPA has the chutzpah to try to impose retroactive liability for use of diesel in fracking, well, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode. I suspect it will have a significant fight on its hands if it tried it do that." Companies have used diesel fuel to disperse other chemicals suspended in the fracking fluids, but environmental groups and regulators have worried some of its components, including toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, could reach drinking water. (Read more)

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