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Obama administration moves to limit diesel use in fracking

May 04, 2012|By Neela Banerjee

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration moved to control the injection of millions of gallons of diesel deep underground during hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil and gas development technique that avoided oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency because of a loophole created under President George W. Bush.

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, hydraulic fracturing got an exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act because of what many have called the Halliburton Loophole. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney's  former company, Halliburton, is one of the main oilfield service companies that performs hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves shooting water and sand laced with chemicals into rock formations to tap oil and gas reservoirs. The 2005 law allowed EPA to regulate fracking only if diesel was among the compounds used in the process.

Last year, an investigation by congressional Democrats revealed that oil and gas companies had pumped at least 32 million gallons of diesel into the earth during fracking since 2005 -- all the while unregulated by the EPA.  On Friday, the EPA proposed guidelines for inspectors to use existing rules for injecting substances underground to govern their regulation of diesel use.

EPA is conducting a broad study of the possible impact of fracking fluids on water supplies, which is expected to be completed later this year and which would help shape new regulations. The Interior Department on Friday proposed updated rules for fracking on federal land, calling for companies to disclose their fluids within 30 days of fracking a well.

Environmentalists criticized the Interior rules as inadequate, saying that the fluids should be disclosed beforehand. Some welcomed EPA's decision to establish guidelines for diesel use, but said that the better course would be to ban diesel outright from underground injection because of possible water contamination. Industry has long countered that fracking does not affect water sources.

Said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Diesel fuel is not critical to fracking.  With the safety threats it poses, there is no sense in allowing it to be used. We need stronger safeguards on the books to protect American health and communities."  

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