The Environmental Protection Agency issued measures for using diesel in hydraulic fracturing, setting standards it said could be adopted by states to govern a process that has spurred the boom in natural gas production.
While drillers say diesel has mostly been phased out of the process called fracking, they had sought to block the EPA’s criteria, saying it could lead to greater federal oversight and delays in getting permits. Environmentalists said the standards were long overdue, even as they urged the agency to take another step and ban any use of diesel in fracking.
The standards rely on state and industry best practices and are part of an effort to ensure “responsible development” of gas trapped in shale, according to a statement. Among other measures, the EPA is recommending baseline and follow-up testing of water sources near drilling sites.
States “updating regulations for hydraulic fracturing may find the recommendations useful in improving the protection of underground sources of drinking water and public health more broadly,” according to a document explaining the new standards.
In 2005, Congress exempted fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to free gas or oil trapped in underground rock formations, from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That exemption was labeled the “Halliburton loophole” by health advocates, referring to Halliburton Co. (HAL), the largest provider of fracking services, led by Richard Cheney before he was elected vice president in 2000.
The law specified that the EPA retained oversight of fracking if diesel was among the ingredients being used. Environmental groups say drillers add the substance to fluids they inject to crack rock and free trapped gas, without applying for the necessary permits.
Diesel is typically used when the underground rock or clay has a tendency to absorb water, according to a report by Democrats on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Diesel and drinking water don’t mix,” said Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill. “Even the Cheney-era Congress recognized diesel’s hazards to drinking water.”
Krill urged Congress to repeal the “Halliburton loophole” and apply federal safe drinking water rules to all fracking operations.
Companies no longer use diesel, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a group representing drillers such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) The EPA rule covers products such as kerosene and fuel oil, which aren’t diesel, it said.
“The guidance is also overly broad, because it covers more than just diesel,” Lee Fuller, vice president for government relations at the Washington-based group, said in a statement. “EPA needs to withdraw the entire rule and start over based on reality.”
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