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May 31, 2012

Diesel and Drinking Water Don't Mix

CHP_DE_frack_waterWho could possibly argue that? No one wants diesel fuel in his or her drinking water. But our water sources are at risk as the natural gas industry takes advantage of gaping public health loopholes and violates the few existing environmental safeguards for fracking at an alarming rate.

So how could diesel fuel get into our drinking water, and what does it have to do with fracking? Well, the make-up of the fracking chemical cocktail is generally illusive. Diesel fuel is just one of many health-threatening components that can be a part of the cocktail. We know it's usually water-based, loaded with various chemicals and compounds that are forced into wells, cracking the shale formations and allowing trapped gas to escape. Many of these elements are harmful to human health - some are even cancer-causing.

But time and again, the natural gas industry has refused to disclose the contents of fracking fluids. Most recently, the Bureau of Land Management issued a proposed rule that would, for the first time, require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals - but only after the chemicals were pumped deep underground.

And it gets worse.

Natural gas companies are using diesel fuel as an additive in its fracking fluid cocktail. Fracking by itself is a dangerous process that imperils the water we drink and the air we breathe.

And using diesel in fracking fluids poses an even greater threat to our drinking water. Diesel contains toxic constituents, including toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, and benzene. Ingesting these substances can damage your central nervous system, liver, and kidneys.

Diesel in drinking water is so hazardous to our health that in 2005, Congress passed legislation that bans diesel fracking fluid under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is a striking action, since most other fracking practices and fluids remain exempt from the law. Furthermore, according to the EPA, any company that uses diesel fuel for fracking must receive a permit under the same law.

Many assumed that this stopped the industry from using diesel fuel altogether in fracking since EPA had not issued any permits for use of diesel fuel.  But, as we've seen time and time again, the gas industry cannot police itself. Between 2005 and 2009, the industry secretly pumped over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel and diesel fuel by-products into the ground, and they were finally caught red-handed last year.

An investigation showed that in that time, no industry companies sought - and no state and federal regulators issued - permits for diesel fuel use in fracking, which is a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also means that the companies injecting diesel fuel had not performed the environmental reviews required by the law.

Further investigation showed that the gas companies didn’t seem to care if drinking water was contaminated in the process. None of them were tracking the proximity of the wells they fractured to underground sources of drinking water or monitoring for contamination. The companies put the blame on the well operators, saying they should track that information.

The EPA has stepped in, offering guidance on how the gas industry must comply with the  Safe Drinking Water Act's requirements for permitting the use of diesel fuel. During this important public comment period on the proposal, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are calling on the EPA to ban diesel use in fracking altogether.

Now it's your turn.

Today, we urge you to send a message to EPA Administrator Jackson to protect our communities by banning diesel fuel and diesel fuel by-products in fracking.

The natural gas industry is expanding rapidly, and if it hasn't already, it could reach your city or town next. It's time to rein in an industry run amok before they put more families and communities at risk of toxic pollution.

-- Deb Nardone, Director of the Beyond Natural Gas Campaign

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