Dems report that oil, gas drillers pumped diesel into the ground
WASHINGTON – Congressional lawmakers from Colorado and elsewhere contend that oil and gas drilling companies have injected more than 32 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel underground without first getting government approval.In a report by congressional Democrats issued 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, including Colorado, where it was injected.The year-long probe was led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and other two other Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Diana DeGette of Colorado and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.”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 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 “frac’ing,” 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 probe found that 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel had been used during frac’ing operations in Colorado.None of the companies surveyed could provide data on whether they performed hydraulic fracturing in or near underground sources of drinking water, the lawmakers said.In frac’ing, drillers inject vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals deep 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 the size of Greece that lies about 6,000 feet beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.Waxman, Markey and DeGette said they hope to find more information on some of the chemicals used in the drilling process, including toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and benzene, a known carcinogen.A 2005 law exempted all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing — except diesel fuel – from federal regulations aimed at protecting drinking water. In 2003, three of the largest drilling companies signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate use of diesel fuel in coal bed methane formations in underground sources of drinking water. That agreement, coupled with the 2005 law, led many to assume the industry had stopped using diesel fuel altogether in hydraulic fracturing, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to EPA.Markey said the committee’s investigation, begun last year when Democrats controlled the House, uncovered many potential violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act that warrant further investigation by the EPA.Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, in a statement issued on Tuesday, declared, “The report of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing is an alarming cause for concern, particularly when a resource as critical as Colorado’s water is at risk.” He said he supports frac’ing “when it is done transparently and in accordance with the law,” and called on the industry to fully disclose the contents of frac’ing fluids.A Colorado industry lobbying group, the Western Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, responded to calls such as Bennet’s by noting there are numerous efforts under way to provide information on frac’ing chemicals.”As regulations surrounding hydraulic fracturing evolve, the Western Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association supports state-based chemical disclosure programs like those being developed by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission,” wrote WSCOGA director David Ludlam in an e-mail. “WSCOGA supports these disclosure efforts because public concern about natural gas operations in western Colorado can and should be addressed.”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 frac’ing. The EPA’s position has been that the regulations do not expressly address or prohibit the use of fuel in fracturing fluid, 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.An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is still reviewing the information provided by lawmakers. The EPA is studying whether hydraulic fracturing affects drinking water and the public health.– Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello contributed to this story.
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