A coalition of more than 25 environment, conservation and advocacy organizations Thursday sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting information about whether service companies broke the law when they allegedly injected diesel fuel during the hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) processes to produce shale natural gas.

The agency and House committee were asked to determine whether the service companies violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The House panel as part of its investigation into hydrofracing disclosed in February that two companies -- Halliburton and B.J. Services -- used diesel in their hydrofracing operations in at least 15 states in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (see Daily GPI, Feb. 19). However, the companies did not reveal to the committee precisely where these injections occurred.

In one of the letters, the 25-member coalition asked the House energy panel to investigate exactly where and when the companies injected diesel. Simultaneously, it sent letters to the three largest hydrofracing companies -- Halliburton, B.J. Services and Schlumberger Ltd. -- to disclose the chemicals used in their hydrofracing processes. Some of the coalition members include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Alliance for Drilling Reform, Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Northeast Pennsylvania Gas Action.

Hydrofracing, which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process where chemicals are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels. Environmentalists contend contend that hydrofracing pollutes drinking water and poses a risk to public health and the environment.

Producers counter that the risk is nil, and that attempts in Congress to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level would inhibit the development of the most promising supply of natural gas.

The oil and gas industry is the only industry currently exempted from the SDWA. Even so, "the SDWA still bars fracturing with diesel fuel without prior oversight," the coalition pointed out. There are several bills pending in Congress to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level under the SDWA. Presently hydrofracing activities are regulated by the states.

In March, the EPA initiated a study about the potential risks of hydrofracing on water quality and public health (see Daily GPI, March 19). But the coalition members called on the agency to take a more active role. "First, we urge the EPA to investigate whether the SDWA was violated when companies used diesel fuel for hydraulic fracturing. Second, while we would also like the EPA to investigate what chemical constituents are being used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, at a minimum we urge the EPA to ask any companies involved in hydraulic fracturing to certify whether or not they are using diesel in fracturing operations.

"Third, the EPA should take action to ensure that there is no unauthorized use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing," wrote coalition representatives.

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