Natural Gas Drillers Illegally Used Diesel Fuel in Fracking, Lawmakers Claim

Natural gas drillers engaged in hydraulic fracturing used diesel fuel in fracking fluids, according to a new report from Democrats in the U.S. Congress. The natural gas drilling companies failed to get approval from the government, the report said, something that appears to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. Halliburton Co. and Baker Hughes Inc.’s BJ Services Co. were among the companies cited by the report for their use of diesel.

The Congressional report was the fruit of a year-long fracking study led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The study found that between 2005 to 2009, 12 of 14 companies hired to perform fracking either used diesel or a mixture that contained diesel. During that time period, more than 32 million gallons was injected in 19 states. Halliburton injected more than 7 million gallons of diesel fuel or fluids containing diesel; BJ Services injected even more, 11.5 million gallons.

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Representatives Waxman, Markey and DeGette asserted that any company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act:

“We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought-and no state and federal regulators have issued-permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing. This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also means that the companies injecting diesel fuel have not performed the environmental reviews required by the law.”

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.

In their letter to the EPA, the lawmakers raised concerns that diesel fuel in the fluids could pollute drinking water supplies, though the probe found no evidence of drinking <"">water contamination from fracking. They urged Jackson to consider the issue “as part of your investigation into the industry’s practices.”

The EPA launched its fracking study last year on the direction of the US Congress. The study, which is slated to be completed in 2012, will look at the impact the gas drilling technique has on the environment and human health. Opponents of fracking are hoping it will lead to better regulation of the industry.

In September, the EPA asked nine companies, including Halliburton, to provide information on their fracking fluids as part of the study. Halliburton was the only firm that did not respond to the EPA request, prompting the agency to issue it a subpoena. In November, Halliburton announced it would publicly disclose detailed information on its website about the chemicals used in its fracturing fluids, however, the EPA said at the time that the company was still required to respond to the subpoena.

According to the Associated Press, a Halliburton spokesperson said the Energy and Commerce report was inaccurate, and claimed 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.”

A spokesperson for Baker Hughes said the company no longer uses diesel fuel in its fracking fluids. However, the company disputed the contention that it had violated the law in doing so.

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