A Congressional probe sponsored by House Democrats has found that some of the largest hydraulic fracturing firms in the United States routinely pumped millions of gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel into underground wells throughout the past decade.
Twelve firms cited in the report, released today, took advantage of a period of regulatory lapse between 2005 and 2009 when no new federal rules were issued to outlaw the practice. It also appears that the government willfully abdicated its oversight role.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 carved out an exemption for hydro-fracking from the Clean Drinking Water Act - unless diesel fuel was used. However, the probe found that not a single permit was granted to use diesel fuel during those years.
"This appears to be an area of significant noncompliance with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act," House democrats said in the report. The representatives urged the Environmental Protection Agency to act on the information.
The EPA released a statement saying, '"EPA has embarked on an expeditious effort to clarify the permitting process as it relates to diesel use in hydraulic fracturing operations."
Industry spokesperson told Reuters that oil service companies were in the clear, because no federal rules governed the use of diesel in hydro-fracking at the time.
"Retroactively imposing a permit requirement is clearly improper," said Gary Flaharty, a Baker Hughes spokesman. The company has discontinued its use of diesel fuel in its mining operations, it says.
Hydro-fracking is a controversial mining technique that is employed to extract natural gas from shale. A borehole is dug deep into the ground to inject a proprietary chemical mix that breaks up and opens channels in rock formations. Gas is then expelled from the rock and collected.
Fracking firms are not required to disclose what chemicals are used in the process, and critics warn that acute environmental contamination is possible.
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