April 26, 2011 -
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators soon will clarify the rules for natural gas companies that inject diesel fuel into the ground as part of their hydraulic fracturing operations, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.
The guidance — coming “very shortly” — is meant to clear up rules for natural gas producers, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.
A congressional investigation concluded earlier this year that companies have not secured EPA permits before injecting more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel and other fluids into the ground as part of their fracturing operations between 2005 and 2009.
States historically have regulated hydraulic fracturing, a technique for producing natural gas that involves injecting mixtures of water, sand and chemicals such as diesel fuel deep underground and at high pressures to break up dense shale rock.
Although Congress exempted most hydraulic fracturing activities from EPA’s jurisdiction as part of a 2005 rewrite of the Safe Drinking Water Act, that exception does not apply to diesel fuel — even though the government only began to regulate it last year.
Jackson insisted that the EPA has authority to regulate diesel fuel in fracturing fluids.
“Our belief is that this is not exempt,” she said. “That exception specifically says that diesel is not exempt. So if you are injecting diesel, that is a concern.”
The move comes amid mounting environmental fears about the hydraulic fracturing process, which is being combined with horizontal drilling techniques to extract previously unrecoverable natural gas from shale formations across North America.
Industry representatives broadly have argued against federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing and say state officials are better positioned to oversee the work. Although some oil field service firms and natural gas producers have begun voluntarily providing details about the ingredients of their fracturing fluids, there is no federal mandate for that disclosure.
Marvin Odum, the president of Shell Oil Co., said the company “supports regulations that require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the process … and adhere to the highest safety standards.”
“Responsible operators should have no problem complying,” Odum added.
By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY
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