Lawmakers Push EPA on Fracking Diesel Rules

A group of Democratic lawmakers has requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) upcoming guidance on hydraulic fracturing require permitting for all diesel fuels used in fracking fluids, including those that contain the benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and/or xylenes (the so-called BTEX compounds). The request was made in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday.

The U.S. Representatives signing the letter included Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Diana DeGette of Colorado, and Rush Holt of New Jersey.

As we’ve reported in the past, fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, except when diesel fuel is used. But the EPA had never bothered to clarify rules on diesel until a report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) early last year found confusion among state regulators about the diesel regulations. The EWG also found that many wells were being fracked with diesel without the proper permits. Months after the EWG published its report, the EPA posted diesel rules on its website.

Following the EWG’s revelations, a year-long probe conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that during fracking, a number of energy companies had injected a total of 10 million gallons of “straight diesel fuel”, and another 22 million gallons of fracking fluid that consisted of at least 30 percent diesel. None of the drillers received permits from the EPA to do so.

Yesterday’s letter to EPA Administrator Jackson pointed out that in a 2004 report, the agency stated that the “use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat” to underground sources of drinking water.” It further states that: “The Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the EPA have all determined that benzene is a human carcinogen. Long term exposure to the chemicals toluene, ethylbenzene, or xylenes also have significant health impacts as they can damage the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys.”

The letter expressed concern of a scenario in which the EPA would allow frackers to “use many forms of diesel fuel without obtaining a permit — even if the fuel contained BTEX compounds — because the diesel formulation fell outside the scope of a narrow definition.”

The letter concludes:

“How “diesel fuel” is defined is a vital issue as the agency crafts guidance for permitting diesel fuel use for hydraulic fracturing. Since federal law contains no public disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing fluids, this guidance offers an opportunity to clarify permitting requirements and increase consistency and transparency of program implementation in a way that serves to protect public health and drinking water supplies. We urge you to craft a definition that provides consistency to industry while serving to protect public health and the environment.”

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