ProPublica: Officials say EPA has no rules for use of diesel fuel in fracking

Oil and gas industry lobbyists in Colorado still have not commented to The Colorado Independent on the results of a congressional investigation earlier this week that revealed more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel had been used in hydraulic fracturing operations in 19 states, including 1.3 million gallons in Colorado.

The probe was conducted by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and three lawmakers, including Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to request that EPA determine whether the use of diesel fuel violated an agreement in the 2005 Energy Policy Act requiring federal permitting.

Overall, the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act when the Energy Policy Act was passed during the Bush administration. That bill was dubbed the Halliburton loophole for the company that perfected the fracking process, The congressional probe found Halliburton injected more than 7 million gallons of diesel.

For years, DeGette, along with Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, has been leading the charge to remove the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) exemption and require oil and gas companies to reveal the chemicals used in fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and undisclosed chemicals deep into the natural gas wells to crack open sandstone formations and free up more gas.

Opponents of fracking say it leads to groundwater contamination. Industry officials say the process is safe and the chemicals must remain secret for proprietary reason. However, DeGette argues that diesel fuel, which contains numerous cancer-causing toxins, was exempted from the 2005 exemption – meaning its use still requires a federal permit under the SDWA. But oil and gas industry officials dispute that contention.

In an e-mail to the online investigative website ProPublica, Halliburton officials claimed the company had not violated any laws “because there are currently no requirements in the federal environmental regulations that require a company to obtain a federal permit prior to undertaking a hydraulic fracturing project using diesel.”

In the same ProPublica story, an industry lobbying organization also disputed the congressional conclusion that federal law may have been violated.

“We are not questioning that EPA has the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act if diesel fuel is being used. It’s the fact that there are no rules to do that,” said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America and executive director of industry-funded Energy in Depth.

ProPublica’s story goes on to describe the convoluted negotiating process over the use of diesel fuel in fracking and some of the possible reasons for the disconnect between what industry officials believes the law dictates and what congressional investigators have concluded.

In Colorado, officials with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Western Energy Alliance (formerly IPAMS) still had not offered comment on the congressional probe as of this morning.

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