EPA loophole allows fracking companies to inject diesel chemicals into the ground without oversight
The planet’s growing dependency on fossil fuels is inadvertently altering our environments in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. Practices like hydraulic fracking not only have adverse environmental effects but have also spurred an economic transformation in the U.S. as the nation distances itself from reliance on foreign oil.
Daily oil production in the U.S. has increased by 3.7 million barrels in just five years, reports Al Jazeera, decreasing foreign imports by 44 percent. Economists predict that, in just a few years, the U.S. will be the world’s leader in oil production, surpassing Saudi Arabia, and becoming completely self-sufficient by 2035.
Fracking is a relatively new technique that involves accessing natural oil and gas reserves by drilling horizontally into underground shale formations and injecting a mixture of nearly 200 chemicals at high pressures that crack open rock, releasing the valued resource.
Fracking is so lucrative, industry allowed to the break rules and contaminate the environment
The economic value tied to fracking casts transparency on why the industry is allowed to continue a process that’s been proven to contaminate groundwater and private drinking wells. Because of its infancy, unbiased studies regarding the potential environmental effects caused by fracking are hard to come by.
A recent study concluded that fracking was in fact responsible for contaminating private drinking wells in the Barnett and Marcellus Shale; however, faulty equipment was blamed rather than the actual process of injecting high-pressure chemicals.
One of the primary concerns regarding fracking is the potentially harmful chemicals that are used, a third of which scientists know nothing about. Eight of the ingredients are known to be toxic to mammals.
Also injected at high pressures into the ground is diesel, which contains the four chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Diesel’s toxic effects on people have prompted federal regulations that require companies to obtain a permit before doing any drilling that involves diesel.
“The permits regulate the length and depth of concrete and steel well casings that keep those chemicals from reaching groundwater,” reports The Columbus Dispatch.
However, a “loophole” in the law allows natural oil and gas companies to drill using diesel chemicals without a permit, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).
At least 33 companies drilled 351 wells in 12 states using diesel fuels without permits
Under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the use of diesel for drilling or fracking is supposed to be closely monitored and regulated because of its toxicity and ability to contaminate groundwater.
However, in 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act[PDF], a.k.a. the “Halliburton Loophole,” which “exempted hydraulic fracturing from key requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and federal Clean Water Act.”
The loophole allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “to retain its authority to prohibit the underground injection of diesel fuels unless authorized by a Safe Drinking Water Act permit.” The permits are intended to protect the public from diesel-contaminated groundwater.
The drilling industry has falsely claimed over the last decade that they are no longer using diesel fuel for fracking; however, a 2011 investigation concluded otherwise, according to the EIP. In 2014, the EPA released a guideline disclosing five commonly used drilling products that contain diesel fuel and require a permit.
An examination of industry-provided data found at least 351 wells in 12 states that were fracked over the last four years using one or more of the five prohibited diesel-containing products over a four-year period.
Communications with the 12 states and the EPA revealed that none of the “drilling companies applied for — or received — the required permits to frack with diesel,” says the EIP.
“We urge EPA and the states to exercise their legal authority by immediately investigating the compliance status of these 351 wells and taking all necessary steps to make sure they are properly permitted,” said Mary Greene, the author of the EIP report. “Companies that inject diesel without permits should be fined for ignoring the law.”