Fracking “Halliburton Loophole” Too Broad, Former Bush EPA Official Says

The regulatory exemption granted to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has now become known as the “Halliburton Loophole” went too far, according to a former George W. Bush administration official. Benjamin Grumbles, who served as assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also told ProPublica the controversial 2004 study that paved the way for the Halliburton Loophole should not have served as the basis for deregulating the fracking industry.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface to release gas deposits buried deep in shale. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – the exemption that has come to be dubbed the Halliburton Loophole.

A year ago, the U.S. Congress directed the EPA to conduct a new, comprehensive study of fracking’s impact on water quality and the environment. Opponents of fracking hope the EPA study, which is expected to be concluded in 2012, will lead to federal oversight of the industry.

The 2004 EPA fracking study concluded that fracking posed no risks to water supplies, and was used to convince Congress to exempt the industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act. That study was criticized as flawed due to heavy industry influence on its review panel. An EPA whistleblower later claimed that the study’s findings were “unsupportable,” and alleged that evidence showing that benzene and other toxic chemicals in fracking fluid could migrate into ground water had been suppressed in the final report.

According to ProPublica, Grumbles oversaw the commission that wrote the EPA’s 2004 fracking report. He told ProPublica that the report wasn’t “meant to be a bill of health saying ‘well, this practice is fine. Exempt it in all respects from any regulation.'” He also said the EPA urged Congress not to make any exemption “perpetual.” Finally, Grumbles told ProPublica that the exemption ended up being too broad, and that he was disappointed at losing both the authority to regulate fracking and to revisit the issue in the future.

Most importantly, Grumble told ProPublica that the federal government should re-examine the fracking exemption:

“Since then, there has been increasing data — this being one of the big topics of the day when it comes to water and energy — and there have been an increasing number of instances where communities and citizens have expressed concern. I think it is important to keep having that conversation as to whether an exemption makes sense, and also what additional science is needed to justify the continuation of the exemption. ”

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