DeGette, other top energy Dems seek better definition of ‘diesel fuel’ in gas fracking

Rep. Diana DeGette (Kersgaard)

Coming up with a definition of diesel fuel seems like a fairly straightforward task, but in the world of natural gas drilling and the process of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – nothing ever comes easy.

Senior Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette on Monday joined fellow Democrats Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Rush Holt in asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to write a much broader definition of diesel fuel than the industry seems willing to accept.

The Democrats produced a report in January showing Halliburton and other oil service providers may have illegally used millions of gallons of diesel fuel in the controversial but commonly used gas-drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, which injects water, sand and undisclosed chemicals deep underground to crack open rocks and free up more gas.

Industry representatives, including the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, agreed that diesel fuel was not part of a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing that was granted during the Bush administration in 2005. But they countered that the EPA never engaged in an official rulemaking that defined the parameters for using diesel fuel in fracking. Now DeGette and other Dems want the EPA to do just that.

In a press release Monday announcing a formal letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson the Democrats asked her agency “to craft a definition of ‘diesel fuel’ for its upcoming guidance on permitting hydraulic fracturing activities that is broad enough to protect human health and require permitting for all diesel fuels, including those that contain benzene and other toxic components.”

The same Democrats produced a congressional report in April showing fracking fluids can contain up to 29 known human carcinogens, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX). The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted fracking from the SDWA “unless the fluid injected contains diesel fuel,” primarily because it contains BTEX.

Tisha Schuller, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA), told the Colorado Independent in February that “EPA never went through the public rulemaking process, or even provided guidance to the states in this regard; thus, there was not a regulatory framework for permitting or reporting hydraulic fracturing with diesel through EPA. As a result, there wasn’t a regulation to be broken.”

For a full text of the DeGette, Waxman, Markey, Holt letter to Jackson, click here (pdf).

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