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EPA Head Says Guidance on Diesel Use in Fracking Due Soon

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with input from the departments of Interior and Energy, industry and the states, is expected "very shortly" to issue guidance to oil and natural gas producers on the use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Tuesday.

The EPA "is looking at its regulatory authority to find those places where [it] needs to provide, if not guidance, some direction" with respect to fracking fluids, she said at the Energy Information Administration's annual conference in Washington, DC. "And the place where we do have a gap right now is...diesel injection," Jackson told a crowd of more than 700 energy executives and policymakers.

"We now know that companies are using diesel. They're injecting it as part of the fracking process," she said. An inquiry by House Democrats, the results of which were released earlier this year, found that oil and natural gas companies injected more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fracking fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states between 2005 and 2009 (see Daily GPI, Feb. 1).

The guidance specifically would clarify the requirements for producers that are seeking underground injection control permits for the use of diesel as a fracking fluid, according to Jackson.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) exempts fracking from federal regulation. "Our belief is that this [diesel] is not exempt" under the SDWA, Jackson said. Congress has been debating for years the issue of whether the federal government should regulate fracking as critics contend that the practice poses significant risks to public health and the environment. In March Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced legislation to increase regulation of fracking.

His legislation would repeal the exemption for all fracking fluids under the SDWA and require companies to disclose the chemicals they use during the process. Casey originally introduced the bill in June 2009, but the bill died in committee.

Asked about the blowout of the Chesapeake Energy well in the Marcellus Shale in northeast Pennsylvania, Jackson said, "We generally...prefer to allow the states to [be] the first level of response," although she added "we do have a regulatory" role to play.

Chesapeake Energy has reported that the well that blew out late April 19 is "stable," but the company must now manage the public and regulatory fallout of the incident (see related story; Shale Daily, April 26). Following its initial investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to Chesapeake on Friday and required the company to respond this week.

If EPA action is called for, "Let me say...all our regional offices will handle [any] concerns," Jackson said.

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