EPA Must Do More to Prevent Diesel in Fracking Fluid from Threatening Water

The Environmental Working Group submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its draft permitting guidance for oil and gas companies that use diesel in their fracking fluids. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires oil and gas companies to obtain a permit from EPA before injecting chemicals into the ground as part of their drilling operations. The permit requirement is designed to prevent contamination of underground sources of drinking water. In 2005 Congress largely exempted fracking fluid from this requirement unless the fluid contains diesel. Diesel poses a significant threat to drinking water supplies because it often contains highly toxic chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen that can contaminate water at low levels. Several investigations, including one published in 2010 by EWG, show that oil and gas companies continue to frack using diesel without a permit. EPA has proposed guidance to help regulators ensure that drillers obtain a proper permit when fracking with diesel. EWG believes EPA’s guidance is unnecessarily weak and will not deter drillers from putting drinking water at risk.

Highlights of EWG’s comments:

  • Fracking is inherently risky and requires adequate safeguards to protect drinking water supplies. EWG’s review of the science shows that fracking is inherently risky and may compromise drinking water supplies for generations to come, especially when fracking fluids contain diesel. Diesel fuel often contains highly toxic chemicals that are known to cause serious health problems including cancer.
  • EPA must do more to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. Until Congress revisits its sweeping exemption for fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA must ensure that drillers obtain permits before using diesel in fracking fluid and take enforcement action against those who ignore or flout the law.
  • EPA should broaden its definition of diesel for purposes of this guidance. EPA’s definition of diesel is far too narrow to adequately protect drinking water supplies. If adopted, the definition will invite drillers to frack with diesel-like compounds that represent an equal or greater threat to water supplies and still avoid permitting requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

EWG’s comments are available here:

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