EPA Issues Draft Rule on Using Diesel Fuel in Fracking Fluid

Friday was document-dump day at the federal government. In addition to the Bureau of Land Management’s new hydraulic fracturing on federal land proposed rule (see this MDN story), the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new policy, or “Guidance” as they call it, for granting drilling permits to drillers who want to use diesel fuel as a component in their fracking fluid mix (a copy of the new Guidance is embedded below).

In 2005 when Congress refused to add hydraulic fracturing to the EPA’s ravenously expanding list of what they can regulate via the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA), Congress left a loophole. But it’s not the so-called Halliburton loophole. If a driller wants to use diesel fuel as a component of fracking fluid, they must apply with the EPA for a special Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit—an exemption if you will—from the SWDA. This new Guidance attempts to set a policy in place that will govern when UIC permits will and will not be issued.

From the EPA’s press release:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft underground injection control (UIC) program permitting guidance for class II wells that use diesel fuels during hydraulic fracturing activities. EPA developed the draft guidance to clarify how companies can comply with a law passed by Congress in 2005, which exempted hydraulic fracturing operations from the requirement to obtain a UIC permit, except in cases where diesel fuel is used as a fracturing fluid.

The draft guidance outlines for EPA permit writers, where EPA is the permitting authority, requirements for diesel fuels used for hydraulic fracturing wells, technical recommendations for permitting those wells, and a description of diesel fuels for EPA underground injection control permitting. The draft guidance describes diesel fuels for these purposes by reference to six chemical abstract services registry numbers. The agency is requesting input on this description.

While this guidance undergoes public notice and comment, decisions about permitting hydraulic fracturing operations that use diesel fuels will be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the facts and circumstances of the specific injection activity and applicable statutes, regulations and case law, and will not cite this draft guidance as a basis for decision.

EPA continues to work with states, industry and other stakeholders to help ensure that natural gas is developed safely and responsibly.

EPA will take public comment on the draft guidance for 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register to allow for stakeholder input before it is finalized.

More information: //water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/hydraulic-fracturing.cfm*

*Environmental Protection Agency (May 4, 2012) – EPA Releases Draft Permitting Guidance for Using Diesel Fuel in Oil and Gas Hydraulic Fracturing/Guidance will clarify means of compliance with 2005 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act