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According to the House Energy and Commerce committee, the three largest hydraulic fracturing companies may be using diesel fuel or diesel-based solutions, along with other hazardous chemicals, in their hydraulic fracturing fluids.

This potentially violates the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A reminder, as shown in this ProPublica graphic, horizontal hydraulic fracturing (the relatively new* technique that has opened up new shale gas fields in the United States and around the world) involves the injection of extremely high pressure fluid thousands of feet underground to a layer of gas-containing shale. The high pressure fluid fractures the shale, allowing the gas to flow up the drill well.

The problem with this technique is that no one knows for sure

  1. what exactly is included in fracking fluid,
  2. what happens to all the fracking fluid, and
  3. what happens to all the liberated gas.

Available evidence suggests that

  1. fracking fluid contains toxics,
  2. fracking fluid sometimes contaminates groundwater and drinking water,
  3. liberated gas also can get into drinking water.

We only have anecdotal evidence about the impacts of fracking in part because of a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water passed in 2005 as part of the energy bill. This loophole opened the door to the injection of known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.

This loophole had one caveat it allowed the EPA to regulate the use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations. The three largest companies signed a memorandum of understanding with the EPA that they would not use diesel fuel during the fracturing process for coalbed methane production.

It seems that the oil and gas industry may have broken its promise. According to documents obtained from the industry by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Halliburton reported using 807,000 gallons of 7 diesel-based fluids between 2005 and 2007. The companies indicated that they also used benzene, xylenes, toluene and ethylbenzene all chemicals that could potentially harm human health.

If true, this latest injury to drinking water and public health is more evidence of the need for the FRAC Act — which would close the loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of all drilling toxics. Communities in the 34 states where oil and gas drilling takes place deserve to know what is being injected into their waters — and federal regulation is needed to protect public health.

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* NOTE: vertical fracking was invented by Halliburton, and has been used for decades.  Horizontal fracking is relatively new, and allows one well to access more shale gas.