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Concerns raised on drinking water

Congressional panel finds diesel fuel in fracking fluid
Concerns raised on drinking water
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
By Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Oil and gas companies have injected more than 32 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel underground without first getting government approval, a report by congressional Democrats said Monday.

Lawmakers said the use of diesel fuel by large companies, such as Halliburton and BJ Services Co., appears to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act, because the companies never obtained permission from state or federal authorities to use the diesel fuel.

The probe found no evidence that the use of diesel fuel contaminated water supplies in the 19 states where it was injected, including Pennsylvania.

The yearlong probe was 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 industry has been saying they stopped injecting toxic diesel fuel into wells. But our investigation showed this practice has been continuing in secret and in apparent violation" of the Safe Drinking Water Act, said Mr. Waxman, the panel's senior Democrat and a former chairman.

The investigation found that 12 of 14 companies hired to perform hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," used diesel alone or in a mixture from 2005 to 2009. Of the 32.2 million gallons reported, most was injected in Texas, followed by Oklahoma, North Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming.

The study found that diesel fuel was used in a relatively small amount -- 589 gallons -- of frack fluid in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Repetz said that the state is not aware of the use of any diesel fuel in frack fluid here, based on the companies' disclosures of the chemicals they use on each well site.

Although it was a small amount compared to other states, the DEP could not explain why Pennsylvania companies told congressional investigators that they used 589 gallons of frack fluid that contained diesel fuel.

Eben Burnham-Snyder, spokesman for Mr. Markey, did not know which Marcellus Shale service company -- or companies -- in Pennsylvania admitted to using diesel fuel in their frack fluid.

In fracking, drillers inject vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals underground so that oil and natural gas will flow.

The technique has been around for decades but has come under increasing scrutiny as drilling crews flock to the Marcellus Shale, a rock bed that lies about 6,000 feet beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

The three lawmakers said they hope to find more information on some of the chemicals used in the drilling process, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

A Halliburton spokeswoman said the Energy and Commerce report was inaccurate.

"Halliburton does not believe that the company's hydraulic fracturing activities have resulted in a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act or any other federal environmental law. 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," said spokeswoman Teresa Wong.

Gary Flaharty, a spokesman for Baker Hughes, which owns BJ Services, said the company was no longer using diesel fuel for fracking. The EPA's position has been that the regulations do not expressly address or prohibit the use of fuel in fracturing fluid, Mr. Flaharty said, adding that any attempt to retroactively impose a permit "is clearly improper."

Texas-based BJ Services used the most diesel fuel and fluids containing diesel fuel -- 11.5 million gallons -- followed by Texas-based Halliburton at 7.2 million gallons, the report said

Industry representatives, however, said the 2005 federal law merely allowed the EPA to have oversight, but the agency never went through the process of creating the regulations allowed by the law.

As a result, "there was no standing rule they were violating," said Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy In Depth, an industry trade group.

He said the industry is currently in court with the EPA over this issue because the agency last year posted a notice on its website that states that "any service company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive prior authorization" from the EPA.

He said the industry sued because the EPA posted that notice without going through a rule-making process, "so no one knows what the standard is that we're supposed to be operating under."

The EPA said in a statement Monday that it "has embarked on an expeditious effort to clarify the permitting process as it relates to diesel use in hydraulic fracturing operations. ... Our goal is to put in place a clear framework for permitting so that fracturing operations using diesel receive the review required by law."

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