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Yesterday, the Greenwire (published in the New York Times)* erroneously reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new regulations for the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking).

What the EPA did do: use its website to highlight existing law that authorizes EPA to prevent the injection of diesel fuel underground during fracking. EPA took this step only after companies like Halliburton were caught doing so.

The EPA’s authority to regulate the use of diesel to protect drinking water from oil and gas related pollution is actually well established.

In 1997, a federal appeals court found hydraulic fracturing fell within the purview of the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, and should be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

This authority was reinforced in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Though the 2005 EPAct contained the “Halliburton loophole” which exempted most hydraulic fracturing from EPA regulation, it did explicitly leave the use of diesel fuel subject to the Act. Meaning, that if a company is going to use diesel fuel for a frack job, it would still require a permit under the UIC program of the SDWA.

While three members of industry and the EPA came to a voluntary agreement not to use diesel when fracturing coalbed methane wells, this agreement fell short of protecting drinking water. As The New York Times reported last February, Halliburton and BJ Services both admitted continuing use of diesel when hydraulically fracturing wells. In fact, Halliburton reported using diesel mixtures from 2005-2007 to fracture wells in 15 states.

If there is a lesson in this, it is that industry-driven voluntary agreements do not work. A basic federal standard to make sure that toxic chemicals do not pollute drinking water is clearly needed removing the Halliburton loophole would be a first step in that process.

Last August, a coalition of environmental organizations sent a letter to the EPA asking them to regulate the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing, and we applaud them for doing so. We will be watching industry and state regulators closely to make sure that UIC Class II permits are issued before hydraulic fracturing occurs with diesel fuel.  

CORRECTION:The original blogpost attributed the original EPA story to the New York Times. The story was in fact published by Greenwire, whose content is sometimes co-published with the New York Times

UPDATE: EPA pushes back on reports it changed fracking rules, Greenwire, 01/21/2011 (subscription only)

UPDATE II: EPA, diesel, fracking and transparency: a clarification, EARTHblog, 01/28/2011