New Congressional Inquiries On Hydraulic Fracturing

April 2010 Vol. 65 No. 4

Congressional concern about "fracing" took another step forward when the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to eight companies asking for details on the chemicals they use during horizontal drilling of shale gas deposits. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the committee, implied in a memorandum to committee members explaining the need for the letters that the "Big Three" of fracing may have violated a voluntary memorandum of agreement (MOA) they signed with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005. That MOA obligated them to forswear use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids injected into coal bed methane production wells in underground sources of drinking water. The three companies are Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger. The MOA did not extend to natural gas production. Waxman claimed BJ Services already admitted a violation.

Jeff Smith, a spokesman for BJ Services, admits the company did inadvertently violate the MOA in 2007. He says the company has replaced diesel oil with mineral oil in all fracing liquids it uses for underground water and shale deposit work.

Halliburton calls the Waxman implication that it had violated the MOA "completely inaccurate." In a statement in response to the Waxman letter, it said: "Halliburton is firmly committed to full compliance with the MOA and has, in fact, voluntarily gone further to cease the use of diesel in its liquid gel concentrates regardless of the type of HF job in which they are used."

Waxman and others in Congress are concerned not just about use of diesel in fracing but other chemicals as well, such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene which theoretically could contaminate sources of drinking water. "There has been no evidence presented to us that suggests fracing is contaminating the drinking water supply," states Smith.

Given the potential for shale gas production, Congress is unlikely to limit fracing per se. But legislation called the FRAC Act has already been introduced in Congress which would require developers of shale gas production to disclose the chemicals in fracing fluids. The EPA would control that new reporting requirement. Major natural gas companies have previously told a congressional committee during hearings early this year that they oppose the FRAC Act because they are concerned with how the EPA may administer the law.