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Congress Confirms Drillers Fracked with Diesel

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, January 31, 2011

Washington, DC -- The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commends the important investigation of hydraulic fracturing released today (Jan. 31) by U.S. Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). Their disturbing findings show that 1) oil and natural gas drilling companies injected more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fluids containing diesel fuel in hydraulically fractured wells in 19 states between 2005 and 2009; and 2) no state and federal regulators have issued the required permits for this use of diesel fuel, an apparent violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Drilling companies have won exemption from just about every piece of federal environmental law except the requirement to get permits if they use diesel in their fracking fluids,” said EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt. “This report shows they haven't even complied with this limited provision. How can communities trust these companies to drill responsibly?”

“Companies are increasingly drilling in populated areas and using ever more intensive hydraulic fracturing in shale formations,” Horwitt said. “Reps. Waxman, Markey and DeGette deserve credit for pursuing this important investigation and working to ensure that drilling is conducted carefully and in compliance with our laws.”

Under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Congress generally exempted hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” from the permitting requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act – except when diesel fuel is used. In a 2004 study of hydraulic fracturing, the EPA found that “the use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest potential threat to [underground sources of drinking water] because the BTEX constituents in diesel fuel exceed the [allowable contaminant level] at the point of injection.” BTEX refers to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, which are toxic in water at very low concentrations.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into underground formations in order to fracture the rock and unlock trapped gas and oil. Fracking is used in more than 90 percent of natural gas and oil wells.

Among other things, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires companies to obtain permits before conducting underground injections to ensure that aquifers are protected. The permit requires site surveys to ensure that there are no old oil and natural gas wells near the injection wells that could become conduits for contamination, as well as pressure tests to ensure that the injection wells will not crack or leak.

Last August, EWG and more than 25 conservation organizations wrote to Reps. Waxman and Markey urging them to follow up on their investigation last year that found that drilling companies B.J. Services and Halliburton had injected diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 15 states between 2005 and 2007. The letter urged the representatives to determine whether the companies had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in their operations and urged them to determine exactly where the injections had taken place. EWG continues to urge the representatives and the companies to disclose the exact locations of the injections so that communities can take steps to protect themselves.

Separately, EWG and more than 25 conservation organizations urged the EPA to investigate whether drilling companies violated the Act by using diesel in their fracturing operations without permits. EWG again urges EPA to follow up on today’s report with an aggressive investigation and to hold companies accountable.

Last year, EWG released a report titled “Drilling Around the Law” that cited statements by a Wyoming state official, who asked not to be named, that companies were using diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing operations in that state. Today’s Congressional report found that companies had injected almost 3 million gallons of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing operations in Wyoming between 2005 and 2009. EWG’s report also found that companies were fracking with other petroleum distillates that can contain even more carcinogenic benzene than diesel fuel. The use of these substances in hydraulic fracturing is completely unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. EWG urges Congress to eliminate all exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act granted to hydraulic fracturing.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. www.ewg.org.