EPA releases draft permitting guidance for diesel fuel in fracing

This story was updated May 7.

The US Environmental Protection Agency released draft underground injection control (UIC) program permitting guidance for Class II wells that use diesel fuel during hydraulic fracturing. The draft guidance aims to clarify how companies can comply with a 2005 law that made fracing exempt from the requirement to have a UIC permit except when diesel is used as a fracing fluid, EPA said.

It said the draft guidance outlines for EPA permit writers, where the agency is the permitting authority, requirements for diesel fuels used for fracing wells, technical recommendations for permitting those wells, and a description of diesel fuels for EPA underground injection control permitting. The draft guidance also describes diesel fuels for these purposes by reference to six chemical abstract services registry numbers, a description on which EPA is requesting input.

EPA said it will accept comments on the draft guidance for 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register. During this period, permitting decisions on fracing operations using diesel fuels will be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the facts and circumstances of the specific injection activity and applicable statutes, regulations, and case law, and will not cite this draft guidance as a basis for a decision, it said.

Major hydraulic fracturing service companies have quit using diesel fuel in their fluid mixtures, but a few smaller ones still do so. EPA’s proposed permit guidance for diesel fuel use in fracing is a long-overdue step, three Democratic leaders on the US House Energy and Commerce Committee jointly said on May 4.

Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the committee’s ranking minority member; Edward J. Markey (Mass.), ranking minority member on the committee’s Natural Resources Subcommittee; and Diana DeGette (Colo.), ranking minority member of its Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, all said their 2011 investigation found that at least 32 million gal of diesel or fracing fluids containing diesel had been used in the US over 5 years.

“This investigation also found that none of the companies sought—and no state and federal regulators issued—permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act,” they said. “By issuing this guidance, EPA is taking a long-overdue step to explain existing requirements for the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids. We look forward to examining the proposed guidance in more detail.”

Five environmental groups said regulatory guidance would be inadequate and renewed their call for a federal ban on diesel in frac fluid. Officials from the Sierra Club, Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, and Clean Water Action also said the provision of the 2005 Clean Water Act which exempts fracing from the having to comply with the law should be removed.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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