Congressmen ask OMB to finalize diesel in frac fluid rule

Two leading Democrats on the US House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to finalize permitting guidance covering diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing fluids that the US Environmental Protection Agency submitted in September.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted fracing from underground injection control permit requirements unless diesel fuel was used, Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the committee’s ranking minority member, and Diana DeGette (Colo.), the ranking minority member on the committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, said in their Oct. 25 letter to OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

“But the lack of guidance from EPA has created questions about the application of the law,” they continued. “Seven years passed before EPA issued draft guidance for the permitting of [fracing] using diesel fuels. Sixteen more months passed before EPA sent the guidance to OMB for review. During this period, the permitting regime for hydraulic fracturing operations using diesel fuel has remained unclear.”

Industry has taken advantage of this lack of clarity, Waxman and DeGette alleged. They cited 2011 committee data showing oilfield service companies injected more than 32 million gal of diesel or frac fluids containing diesel between 2005 and 2009.

“Moreover, none of the state agencies or EPA regional offices had issued underground injection control permits for the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel,” they continued. “These findings surprised many industry observers, as the oil industry and at least one senior EPA official appointed by President George W. Bush had assured the public that diesel fuel was no longer used in [fracing].”

BJ Services Co., Halliburton Energy Services Inc., and Schlumberger Technology Corp., which provided 95% of the fracing services in the US at the time, signed a memorandum of understanding with EPA on Dec. 23, 2003, to voluntarily remove diesel from frac fluids injected into formations containing underground drinking water sources within 30 days. EPA published its proposed permitting guidance for fracing activities using diesel in May 2012.

“Diesel fuel is toxic and should not be used in [fracing] without careful environmental review under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the congressmen told Burwell. “We urge you to review EPA’s guidance expeditiously so that the agency can finalize strong, clear guidance for permit writers for the remaining cases in which drilling companies opt to use hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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