Earlier this year, NRDC and partner organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking the agency to fully enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act when it comes to hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel. Hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking"), as I've blogged about before, is a process used in oil and gas extraction that has been implicated in contaminating the drinking water of families around the country.
While most hydraulic fracturing is exempt from this federal law, hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel is not exempt. According to the EPA, diesel fuel contains substances that are known to cause cancer or other serious illnesses--benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes--and have been found in fracturing fluids at levels that exceed drinking water standards.
A recent article in Inside EPA reports that the EPA has moved to require a permit when any company uses diesel fuel in the chemical cocktail it blasts underground to access oil or natural gas. This is great news -- it’s the law, and it's EPA's job to enforce that law. It's especially important because a 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.
Sadly, industry doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about following the law. Inside EPA reports that two oil and gas industry associations are suing the EPA over the permit requirement. Does this mean they are using diesel and not reporting it? Otherwise, why would they care?
This is an important step in protecting America's drinking water from the risks posed by oil and gas exploration and production. We're also glad that EPA is embarking upon the first-ever scientific study of the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. In addition, last month, EPA asked hydraulic fracturing companies for information on the chemicals they use.
The next step is for Congress to close the Halliburton Loophole and ensure that all hydraulic fracturing activities, not just operations using diesel fuel, are subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Such protection is critical to protect clean drinking water from the threats of oil and gas operations across the country.