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Closing the “Halliburton Loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 – Hydraulic fracturing, the process pioneered by Halliburton in which water and toxic chemicals are injected into the ground to force out oil and natural gas may finally lose its exemption from basic environmental protections.

Companion House and Senate bills introduced today by Representatives Diana L. DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) seek to close an exemption for hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and require disclosure of chemicals used in the process.

The SDWA sets standards for the underground injection of hazardous substances that could pollute drinking water, but in 2005, after lobbying by the oil and gas industry, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the act.

“For too long, oil and natural gas companies have received a free pass from environmental protections that apply to other industries,” said EWG Senior Analyst, Dusty Horwitt. “This important bill would close one of the industry’s many exemptions and help strike a balance between producing energy and protecting clean sources of water.”

There is growing concern around the process of hydraulic fracturing. The federal Bureau of Land Management recently documented toxic benzene contamination in groundwater in Sublette County, Wyoming, where 3,258 oil and gas wells have been drilled since 2000. Benzene is injected underground in hydraulic fracturing and is emitted in condensate, a naturally occurring liquid that is extracted with natural gas. Because Sublette County is rural, drilling, including fracturing, is the only likely source of the pollution.

In 2008, a nurse in LaPlata County, Colorado, an area of intensive oil and gas drilling, almost died from contact with the clothing of a worker she had treated. The worker’s clothes were permeated with a chemical fluid used in hydraulic fracturing. The company that made the fluid refused to identify it, citing trade secrets to the nurse’s physician even as he was laboring frantically to save her life. Disclosure of toxic chemical releases is generally required under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, but Congress has exempted the oil and gas industries from these requirements as well. The legislation introduced today would require disclosure of chemical constituents in fracturing including disclosure to medical personnel in emergency situations.

EWG report links:

Free Pass for Oil and Gas

Colorado’s Chemical Injection

Safe Drinking Water Fact Sheet in Conjunction with Earthworks

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC. Visit for reports and analysis on drilling and mining on public lands.

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