Oct 27 2010

Halliburton Loophole?

Frac Fluid Not Exempt from Safe Drinking Water Act

Because of ‘Halliburton Loophole,’ Gas Exec Says

Only Oil & Gas Industry Allowed to Inject Hazardous Materials – Unchecked – Into Underground Drinking Water Supplies,

Says Wes Wilson, EPA Whistleblower

Industry ‘Word Game,’ Says Cornell Engineering Prof Tony Ingraffea

Gas Exec Ben Wallace declares that, ”Frac fluid is not exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act because of any ‘Halliburton Loophole.’”

EPA Whistleblower Wes Wilson fires back:  ”The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America allowed to inject hazardous materials – unchecked – directly into, or adjacent to, underground drinking water supplies.”

Cornell Professor of Engineering Tony Ingraffea weighs in on the gas industry’s “word game.”

Ben Wallace is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of PENNECO, an oil and gas exploration company headquartered in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.1

PENNECO owns interests in more than 1,200 wells in 5 states, according to its website, and most of its wells are hydraulically fractured.

COO Wallace shared his views with this blog in an exchange of three e-mails.  The full context of his statement on the Safe Drinking Water Act is as follows:

Hydraulic Fracturing – No Threat

“Frac fluid is not exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA] because of any ‘Halliburton Loophole.’  Fracturing has been used since 1948 and was never in the Safe Drinking Water Act from the Act’s inception over 35 years ago.  For the record, then Senator Barack Obama voted for the 2005 update to the SDWA which reaffirmed that it was not applicable to fracturing activities – which do not occur in clean water aquifers.  I personally have no objections to injecting frac fluid into oil and gas bearing reservoirs and I, as a private citizen, am quite comfortable with the regulations in force by the individual states regarding this activity.  Hydraulic fracturing presents no threat to clean safe driking [sic] water.

http://www.energyindepth.org/tag/halliburton-loophole/

I asked Tony Ingraffea and Wes Wilson to provide an assessment of Wallace’s statement.  Professor Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E., is a Professor of Engineering and Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University.

Weston Wilson is a well-known environmental engineer from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who retired after a 30-year career there.  He is often described as the “EPA whistleblower” based on his report to Congress in 2004 on “EPA’s failure to protect America’s ground water from the impacts of oil and gas production.”

‘Word Game’

Cornell Professor Ingraffea’s first response to COO Ben Wallace’s statement:  “This is a word game.”

“Frac fluid is not exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act because of any ‘Halliburton Loophole.’”

Ben Wallace, Chief Operating Officer, PENNECO

“Mr. Wallace’s first sentence is true,” Ingraffea wrote.  “HOWEVER, the converse is not true:  Frac fluid is NOT covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  He [PENNECO COO Ben Wallace] is saying that frac fluid was always exempt from Federal regulation, before the SDWA (1974), and after, because the SDWA did not cover frac fluid.  Why should it in 1974?  High-volume, slickwater, fracing from long laterals had not yet been invented in 1974.”

I, as a private citizen, am quite comfortable with the regulations in force by the individual states regarding this activity.  Hydraulic fracturing presents no threat to clean safe driking [sic] water.

Ben Wallace, Chief Operating Officer, PENNECO

Continuing his assessment of Wallace’s statement, Ingraffea notes:

“He is implying that STATE regs are just as good as Federal regs in this instance – NOT TRUE.  For example, as a consequence to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA established the UIC [Underground Injection Control] program to regulate injection of waste fluids from oil and gas in deep wells.  In that process, waste fluids – including frac fluids – are injected into rock formations to dispose of them.  This is almost always done to depths greater than gas fracing, and at much lower pressures.”

“Yet, to get a permit from the EPA to do this – a much less dangerous act than fracing itself at shallower depths with much higher pressures – one has to show that the fluids can never migrate into groundwater.  Make sense?  NO!”

Frac ‘Hit the Fan’

Ingraffea concludes (emphasis added):  “The 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act just put specific wording to a long-time practice.  Why?  In my opinion, because the industry knew by 2005 that the crap was going to hit the fan with shale gas development and huge volumes of waste fluids, so they wanted more legal cover.  In other words, the technology had leaped past the regs, and they wanted to keep the old regs in place, to anchor them.”

“The right thing to do now is to wait for the just-starting EPA study on the life-cycle effects of fracing on water to clear the air (water?) on who regulates whom, and why,” Ingraffea says.

Oil & Gas Industry ‘Unchecked’ – Wes Wilson

Former EPA Whistleblower Wes Wilson agreed with Ingraffea’s assessment and offers this summary (emphasis added):

The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America allowed to inject hazardous materials – unchecked – directly into, or adjacent to, underground drinking water supplies.

  • “The federal district court’s decision in the lawsuit against the EPA by the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF v. EPA) meant that wells used for injection of fracking fluids were indeed subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
  • “The 2005 Energy Policy Act did, indeed, exempt fracking from the SDWA.

“For the industry to claim there is ‘no exemption’ is belittling and condescending to the American public. The industry expects Americans to simply forget the duplicity and misinformation orchestrated by the Bush/Cheney Administration to deliberately misguide members of Congress into granting this unique exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

NOTE:

In addition, Wilson provided a timeline of events between 1974 and 2010 as the ‘Halliburton loophole’ and the Safe Drinking Water Act evolved.  For a copy, refer to footnote 2 below, under Links & Resources.

For a copy of Wilson’s 2004 report to Congress titled, EPA Allows Hazardous Fluids to be Injected into Ground Water, refer to footnote 3 under Links & Resources below.

Links & Resources

1 PENNECO website: http://www.penneco.com/

2 Safe Drinking Water Act & The ‘Halliburton Loophole’ - Timeline provided to this blog by Wes Wilson.  It lays out the series of events between 1974 and 2010 that led to the exemption of fracking fluids from the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act, including events that followed.  Pdf file:  timeline-e28093-sdwa

3 EPA Allows Hazardous Fluids to be Injected into Ground Water – A report on EPA’s failure to protect America’s ground water from the impacts of oil and gas production - This is the technical analysis Weston Wilson submitted as a “whistleblower” complaint to Congress and the EPA Inspector General.  Pdf file: wes-wilson-report-to-congress-2004

PENNECO COO Ben Wallace - This is the third of three posts on my exchange with Ben Wallace.  To see the other two posts, go to these links:

Coca-Cola Frack 2 (Oct. 20) – http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=882

Coca-Cola Frack (Oct. 13) – http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=872

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.