Dems press EPA on permits for ‘fracking’

Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats want to limit the "Halliburton loophole" that exempts the natural-gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing from Safe Drinking Water Act rules.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyNet neutrality supporters predict tough court battle over FCC's repeal plan Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Driverless car bill hits Senate speed bump MORE (D-Mass.) wrote to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson Monday as the agency weighs how to handle permitting for "fracking" operations that inject diesel fuels underground.

A 2005 energy law exempts fracking from the drinking water law’s underground injection rules unless diesel fuels are used — a provision critics refer to as the Halliburton loophole after the oil services company once headed by former Vice President Cheney.

Now, as EPA prepares "guidance" on how to handle permitting for cases when diesel is used, the lawmakers are pressing the agency to ensure the definition of "diesel fuel" is written broadly, noting in their letter that "the way in which EPA defines this term has far-reaching consequences."

"We encourage you to adopt a definition of 'diesel fuel' that is broad enough to protect human health and to address the specific reason why Congress singled out diesel fuel in the law  —because it often contains benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (the BTEX compounds)," states the letter from Waxman, Markey and Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.).

Waxman is the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and DeGette is the ranking member of the panel’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

Markey is a senior member of the Energy panel and is also ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, and Holt is ranking Democrat on the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of chemicals, water and sand to break apart rock formations and enable trapped gas to flow.

The increasingly common technique is enabling a U.S. natural-gas production boom as drillers tap gas from shale rock formations in several states. But fracking is bringing concerns about water contamination along with it.

The Waxman-Markey letter to EPA states:

How “diesel fuel” is defined is a vital issue as the agency crafts guidance for permitting diesel fuel use for hydraulic fracturing. Since federal law contains no public disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing fluids, this guidance offers an opportunity to clarify permitting requirements and increase consistency and transparency of program implementation in a way that serves to protect public health and drinking water supplies. We urge you to craft a definition that provides consistency to industry while serving to protect public health and the environment.