February 2, 2011

Fracking 101

Or how Clean Water Act violations can occur

If you haven't heard about the fracking process used to get to natural gas that's lurking in underground shale deposits, there's a very informative website, Fracking Resource Guide, with some easy-to-understand graphics and text that should arouse your concern.

There's another one at http://nofracking.com/ that focuses on fracking in New York State.

All Americans need to get up to speed on this fracking process before everyone's drinking water is harmed.

New York Times story this week should have opned your eyes, if you thought that the drilling companies were going to keep you informed. It seems that some oil and gas service companies have been injecting tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel into onshore wells in more than a dozen states from 2005 to 2009.

OOPS! What about the Safe Water Drinking Act, you ask? Congressman Henry Waxman also asked. But oil and gas companies admitted using diesel fuel in their fracking fluids, but they rejected the assertion that it was illegal. They said that the EPA had never properly developed rules and procedures to regulate the use of diesel in fracking, despite a clear grant of authority from Congress over the issue. Kinda a "frack you" response, I'd say--especially since Halliburton (them again?) and two other drilling companies signed an agreement in 2003 to limit diesel in fracking. But maybe that was only in shallow drilling???? Loopholes, loopholes!

These companies had traditionally used diesel fuel as part of their fracturing cocktails because it helps to dissolve and disperse the other chemicals (Yikes, there are more?) suspended in the fluid. But toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, are in that diesel--and they are finding their way into some drinking water, in spite of the EPA conclusion in 2004 that this did not occur. So EPA folks are re-visiting the issue again, although the results are not expected until 2012 at the earliest.

Here's an interesting fact: in 2005, Congress amended the Safe Water Drinking Act to exclude regulation of hydraulic fracturing, but allowed regulation of diesel fuel used in fracking. That was a "Halliburton loophole."
Many companies have eliminated or cut back on the use of diesel in fracking, but 12 companies (in 19 states) reported having used 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, or fluids containing diesel fuel, in their fracking processes from 2005 to 2009. Approximately half the total was in Texas, but at least a million gallons of diesel-containing fluids were also used in Oklahoma (3.3 million gallons); North Dakota (3.1 million); Louisiana (2.9 million); Wyoming (2.9 million); and Colorado (1.3 million).

The important fact is that no permits for diesel-based fracking have been sought or granted since the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended in 2005. But the EPA never created the rules or procedures to apply for these permits. That's analogous to parents not telling little Johnny that he needs to ask before staying out until midnight before telling him that they'll go bonkers when he tries it.
Making rules and enforcing them is a new job for the EPA after many decades of lax oversight. I'm hoping that EPA poohbah Lisa Jackson is up to this task--and soon.

If you want to read the industry's side of the fracking debate, check out http://www.shalecountry.com/.