EPA issues subpoena to Halliburton for frac fluid ingredients

The US Environmental Protection Agency subpoenaed Halliburton Co. on Nov. 9 as eight other hydraulic fracturing fluid suppliers voluntarily provided information about their products’ ingredients for the federal regulator’s congressionally mandated study of the shale gas production process.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 10 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency subpoenaed Halliburton Co. on Nov. 9 as eight other hydraulic fracturing fluid suppliers voluntarily provided information about their products’ ingredients for the federal regulator’s congressionally mandated study of the shale gas production process.

A spokeswoman responded that Halliburton was disappointed with EPA’s action because the company has been working in good faith to respond to the agency’s request for information about fracing operations over a 5-year period.

“Because the agency’s request was so broad, potentially requiring the company to prepare approximately 50,000 spreadsheets, we have met with the agency and had several additional discussions with EPA personnel in order to help narrow the focus of their unreasonable demands so that we could provide the agency what it needs to complete its study of hydraulic fracturing,” the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement to OGJ on Nov. 10.

Halliburton provided nearly 5,000 pages of documents to EPA as of Nov. 5, the spokeswoman added.

EPA said BJ Services Co., Complete Production Services Inc., Key Energy Services Inc., Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., RPC Inc., Schlumberger Ltd., Superior Well Services Inc., and Weatherford International Ltd. either fully complied or unconditionally committed to promptly provide the information it requested on Sept. 9.

‘Tight deadline’
EPA said its study will look at fracing’s potential adverse impacts on drinking water supplies and public health. “The agency is under a tight deadline to provide initial results by the end of 2012 and the thoroughness of the study depends on timely access to detailed information about the methods used for fracturing,” it said.

EPA said it has completed public hearings on the matter. It sought information about the companies’ frac fluids’ chemical composition, chemicals’ environmental and human health impacts, standard operating procedures at fracing sites, and fracing operation locations.

“To date, Halliburton has only provided copies of material safety data sheets for fracturing products in response to EPA Question 1 and additional information about health and environmental impacts of these products in response to EPA Question 2,” Peter S. Silva, the agency’s assistant administrator for water, said in a letter to Halliburton chief executive David J. Lesar which accompanied the subpoena.

Silva noted that when EPA staff members asked Halliburton on Oct. 29 to commit in writing to provide the remaining information by Nov. 15, the oil field service company responded that it would use its “best efforts” and “endeavor to complete its response” by the end of January 2011. “The company cites the burdens of complying but adopts an unreasonable interpretation of EPA’s request at odds with guidance provided by EPA at an Oct. 8 meeting and confirmed in writing by the company in its Oct. 12, 2010, letter,” Silva said.

‘Inadequate, inconsistent’
“EPA believes that Halliburton’s response is inadequate and inconsistent with the cooperation shown to date by the eight other companies,” he continued. “Since Halliburton appears not to be committed to providing all the requested information on an expeditious schedule, EPA therefore is ordering the submission of the information outlined in the enclosed subpoena and information request, pursuant to the authorities cited therein.”

Megan Klein, an associate attorney with Earthjustice, observed, “As if being exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act isn’t enough, Halliburton is now refusing to comply with EPA requests designed to protect public health. Clearly, when it comes to the oil and gas industry, asking nicely isn’t enough.” Formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the environmental organization calls the 2005 exemption of hydraulic fracturing from the federal drinking water law “the Halliburton loophole.”

“We need strong, enforceable rules requiring Halliburton and the rest of the gas industry to lift the shroud of secrecy currently protecting their use of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing operations across the country,” Klein continued in a Nov. 9 statement.

“These rules must force the gas industry not only to identify the chemicals they inject near the nation’s groundwater supplies, but also to inform the public about the potential health and environmental risks associated with these chemicals,” she declared. “It’s time for EPA to stop Halliburton from amassing profits at the direct expense of public health.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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