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EPA Releases Guidelines on the Use of Diesel Fuel in Fracking Fluid
by Environment California
Friday Feb 14th, 2014 11:31 AM
Sacramento, CA. – On February 11, as we learn more every day about the chemicals used in fracking that threaten our environment and health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited guidance for regulating the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluid under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Investigations show that diesel fuel, known to be hazardous to human health, has been used in fracking operations in California.
“After the chemical spill disaster in West Virginia that left 300,000 West Virginians unable to drink their tap water the threats to our drinking water couldn’t be clearer. We know that diesel fuel is a known carcinogen, but companies have reported using diesel fuel in fracking fluid in California, said Environment California Legislative Director Dan Jacobson. “The EPA has made a small step toward curbing one of many threats from fracking. And while EPA lacks the authority to stop fracking entirely, the agency can and should bar the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluid, once and for all.”

Fracking, a form of oil and gas drilling, uses toxic chemicals, sometimes including diesel fuel, mixed with millions of gallons of fresh water, to extract gas and oil reserves deep below the earth’s surface. California, in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history can’t afford to continue to frack. Diesel fuel is incredibly toxic. It contains benzene, a known carcinogen, as well as toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes, which can damage our liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Benzene alone is so toxic that the concentration in drinking water “below which there is no known or expected risk to health” is zero.[i]

In 2011, the Obama administration convened a panel to make recommendations on shale gas development to the U.S. Department of Energy Science Advisory Board. The panel’s findings concluded “there is no technical or economic reason to use diesel in shale gas production.” As far back as 2004, the U.S. EPA concluded that the "use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to underground sources of drinking water.”[ii]

A 2011 inquiry by Reps. Henry Waxman (Cali.) and Ed Markey (Mass.) revealed that the oil and gas industry used at least 32 million gallons of fracking fluid containing diesel fuel in 19 states from 2005 to 2009, including 26,000 in California.[iii]. Continued use of diesel in fracking fluid was confirmed again in August 2012 in an estimated 408 wells nationwide.[iv]

“The case for banning diesel in fracking fluid is clear. And given the other threats to our drinking water, air, health, and communities, we need to stop fracking altogether,” concluded Jacobson

[i] United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drinking Water Contaminants, found at September 9, 2012. EPA’s enforceable limit for benzene in drinking water is 5 parts per billion, but the agency sets “[t]he level of [benzene] in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health,” at “zero.”

[ii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Evaluation of Impacts 10 Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coal bed Methane Reservoirs (June 2004) (EPA 816-R-04-003) at 4-11.

[iii] Waxman, H., Markey, E. and DeGette, D., Letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson re: investigation on diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing (January 31, 2011).

[iv] See Mike Soraghan, “Hydraulic Fracturing: Diesel still used to ‘frack’ wells, FracFocus data shows,” Energy Wire (August 17, 2012) Because data submission to FracFocus is voluntary in many states, there are likely other wells using diesel that were not included in this total.


Environment California is a statewide environmental group working for clean air, clean water and protecting our beautiful places.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014