EPA Office to Investigate Regulation of Water-Safety in Fracking, As Agency Releases Guidelines for Fracking with Diesel

Contributed by Caroline Toole

Recently, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced that it will begin “preliminary research on the EPA’s and states’ ability to mange potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” In a letter announcing the initiative, the OIG stated that its objective is to evaluate the EPA’s and states’ regulatory authority, “identify potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing,” and assess the EPA’s and states’ responses to these threats. The announcement did not include a timeline for the research, although it did state that the initiative is included in the agency’s fiscal year 2014 annual plan. The OIG hopes that the research will lead to “improved preventative and response measures and improved coordination among the EPA, states and industry.”

Additionally, the EPA recently released guidelines for the small minority of  hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations that use diesel fuels in their fracking fluids. These recommendations were released under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program, which regulates the permitting, construction and operation of injection wells. However, fracking with diesel is the only type of fracking that is subject to the UIC Program. Fracking with all other fluids was exempted from the program by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. According to EPA estimates, less than two percent of fracking wells use diesel fuels, although the agency noted that the data was “voluntarily submitted and not statistically representative of the presence of diesel fuels or other chemical substances” in fracking fluids. However, the agency stated that many of the practices recommended in the diesel-guidelines “are consistent with best practices for hydraulic fracturing in general.”

The new guidelines recommend that the EPA collect data on the seismic history and baseline geochemical composition of the area where fracking with diesel is conducted. Additionally, the recommendations endorse the monitoring of underground sources of drinking water, as well as testing of the well’s mechanical integrity during and after the fracking operations. The EPA described these practices as “critical for ensuring that underground sources of drinking water are protected.”