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Halliburton, Other Gas Fracking Companies Violated Safe Drinking Water Act, Congressional Democrats Say

MATTHEW DALY   01/31/11 05:37 PM ET   AP

WASHINGTON — Oil and gas companies have injected more than 32 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel underground without first getting government approval, a report by congressional Democrats said 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 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.

"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 "fracking," 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.

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 fracking, drillers inject vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals 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. Fracking also is used in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and other states.

Waxman and Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said they hope to find more information on some of the chemicals used in the drilling process, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

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.

"Companies should not be able to pump the same fuels that are put into gas tanks into potential sources of drinking water," Markey said.

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 fracking. 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 they agency is still reviewing the information provided by lawmakers. The EPA is studying whether hydraulic fracturing affects drinking water and the public health.

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Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello contributed to this story.

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