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Fracking for Natural Gas and Oil May Have Broken the Law

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, August 5, 2010

WASHINGTON – August 5, 2010. More than 25 conservation and community organizations from across the United States asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a congressional committee to investigate whether natural gas and oil companies broke the law by injecting diesel fuel underground in a controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing.

The groups sent letters today to the EPA and the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.  The letters asked them to determine whether companies violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in their fracturing operations.

In February, the House Energy and Commerce Committee disclosed as part of an investigation into hydraulic fracturing that energy companies Halliburton and B.J. Services had used diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 15 states in 2005, 2006 and 2007.  However the companies did not reveal to the committee precisely where these injections occurred.

One of the letters released today also asks the committee to investigate exactly where and when the companies injected diesel so that communities can protect themselves.  The more than 25 organizations simultaneously sent letters to the three fracturing companies named in the committee’s February disclosure, Halliburton, B.J. Services and Schlumberger, asking the companies to state where and when they injected diesel and related compounds.

"Oil washing up on our shores is not the only threat America currently faces from the oil and gas industry," said Lynn Senick with Northeast Pennsylvania Gas Action. "Currently, there is not a system in place to make sure that toxic diesel fuel is not polluting our drinking water sources."

"As someone who lives with oil and gas operations in my backyard, I am imploring the EPA to find out whether or not any hydraulic fracturing companies have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act by using diesel fuel, and take action accordingly," said Janine Fitzgerald, a landowner and farmer near Bayfield Colorado.

"Fracking," as it is known, involves the underground injection of up to eight million gallons of fluid per well at extremely high pressure.  The fluid fractures rock formations to allow natural gas or oil to flow more easily. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the (SDWA)—unless diesel fuel is used.  The SDWA sets standards for underground injections to ensure that they do not contaminate underground sources of drinking water.

Diesel and other compounds found in fracturing fluids contain benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, substances that are toxic in water at very low levels. Benzene, a known human carcinogen, has been found in drinking water sources after hydraulic fracturing has taken place nearby.

In 2003, Halliburton, B.J. Services and Schlumberger, the three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, signed a non-binding memorandum of agreement with the EPA that they would not inject diesel fuel directly into underground sources of drinking water during the fracturing process for coalbed methane production. According to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s February report, B.J. Services violated that memorandum.

"This industry has proven time and time again than they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves," affirmed Wes Gillingham with Catskill Mountainkeeper. "Full regulation of hydraulic fracturing is needed to ensure that our drinking water is protected."

Twin bills have been introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 2766 and S. 1215) to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the process of hydraulic fracturing and require disclosure of the chemicals used in the process.

Letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson [PDF]
Letter to Chairmen Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey [PDF]|
Letter to John A. O'Donnell; President, B.J. Services [PDF]
Letter to David J. Lesar; Chairman & CEO, Halliburton [PDF]
Letter to Andrew Gould; Chairman & CEO, Schlumberger [PDF]


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.
EARTHWORKS is a national conservation organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the destructive impacts of energy and mineral extraction, in the U.S. and internationally.

Dusty Horwitt, Environmental Working Group: 202-939-9133 and Lauren Pagel, EARTHWORKS: 202-550-8960

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