Fracking Companies Exploiting Halliburton Loophole to Inject Toxic Chemicals

Investigation finds at least 6 fracking fluids on the market with higher concentrations of benzene (a carcinogen) than diesel fuel, and at least 153 wells fracked with liquids containing ethylbenzene (a probable carcinogen) in 11 states (OK, ND, TX, WY, CO, CA, OH, LA, NM, MT, and MI).

Despite a federal ban on the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing without a permit, several oil and gas companies are exploiting a Safe Drinking Water Act loophole pushed through by Halliburton to frack with petroleum-based products containing even more dangerous toxic chemicals than diesel.

For example, a drilling company in West Texas injected up to 48,000 gallons of benzene (a carcinogen) into the ground just last month.

The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, “Fracking’s Toxic Loophole,” describes how a gap in the Safe Drinking Water Act – nicknamed the “Halliburton Loophole” – requires permits for fracking with diesel fuel, but allows companies to inject other petroleum products even more toxic than diesel without any permitting requirements or safeguards for underground water supplies.

“This double standard illustrates what happens when Congress manipulates environmental statutes for the benefit of polluters, instead of allowing EPA to make public health decisions based on the best available science,” said Eric Schaeffer Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

Fracking with fluids containing benzene (a carcinogen), ethylbenzene (a probable carcinogen), and other highly toxic chemicals is a potential threat to drinking water supplies and public health, but it appears to be common, according to the Environmental Integrity Project’s review of product descriptions available online and company disclosures to an industry-sponsored database of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, called “FracFocus.”

At least six fracking fluid additives on the market today contain more benzene (a carcinogen) than diesel fuel. And at least 21 fluids sold by Halliburton and other companies contain much higher concentrations of ethylbenzene (a probable carcinogen) than benzene, according to industry product descriptions available online. These fracking fluid additives also contained very high levels of xylene and toluene, which can cause neurological problems and other health effects.

“To protect public health, Congress should repeal the Halliburton Loophole and EPA should broaden the categories of fracking fluids that require Safe Drinking Water Act permits,” said Schaeffer. “Without these reforms, we are perpetuating a loophole that allows the unregulated injection of unlimited quantities of highly toxic pollutants into the ground.”

Exactly how often oil and gas companies use these toxic petroleum products is not clear, in part because not all firms disclose to FracFocus. But even the limited data available on FracFocus shows at least 153 wells in 11 states were fracked with fluids containing ethylbenzene between January 2011 and September 2014, with the largest numbers of wells in Oklahoma (77 wells), North Dakota (23), Texas (20), Wyoming (11), Colorado (9), California (5), Ohio (3), Louisiana (2), New Mexico (1), Montana (1), and Michigan (1).

In some cases, the amount of toxic fracking fluids injected into the ground is large. For example, in September, a Texas-based oil and gas company called BlackBrush O&G, LLC, reported injecting a mix of crude oil, butane, and other fluids containing up to 48,000 gallons of benzene into a well in Dimmit County, Texas. Between May 2013 and February 2014, another firm, Discovery Operating Services, reported injecting solvents containing nearly 1,000 gallons of benzene into eleven wells in Midland and Upland Counties in Texas.

Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said: “Texas is in a record-breaking drought where private water wells and even wells for entire towns are going dry. Every drop is precious so we cannot risk polluting any water with toxic fracking chemicals.”

On August 13, EIP released a report, “Fracking Beyond the Law,” that documented the problem of illegal fracking with diesel fuel. The report identified 351 wells fracked with diesel without required Safe Drinking Water Act Permits between 2010 and July 2014. In a letter sent to EPA on October 6, EIP identified an additional 243 wells fracked with diesel. The problem of fracking with diesel was also highlighted in reports by Congressional Democrats in 2011 and the United States Government Accountability Office in June 2014.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 12-year-old nonprofit organization that works to protect public health by advocating for the enforcement of environmental laws.

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