A report linking the fracking industry to violations of the Safe Drinking water Act is putting the biggest names in the fracking industry on the defensive. Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report on Monday that claims 12 companies in several states dumped more than 30 million gallons of diesel fuel as part of a scheme to extract natural gas from underground space.

The report, lead by three representatives and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, states that 32 million gallons of diesel fuel were injected into the ground between 2005 and 2009 and that no oil or gas service companies have issued permits for doing so. This combination “appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

This news comes at a critical time for the natural gas industry, which has been getting mixed signals from Washington. President Obama focused on cutting spending by eliminating taxpayer-backed subsidies for oil and gas companies during his State of the Union address, but after the disastrous (for Democrats) midterm elections Obama frequently touted using natural gas as part of an effort to get off of foreign energy sources.

The mixed signals make every day critical for the industry. It’s currently in a public relations' quagmire to earn the trust of the American public. If convinced that natural gas is truly clean and truly safe to produce, Americans could make a large industry even larger. But trust is the issue, and this latest report makes earning it an even bigger hurdle.

This explains the crossfire of finger pointing from the natural gas industry. Politico quoted Marr Armstrong, an industry attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani saying,  “EPA probably has the right to create such a program, but it’s not in place right now.” The congressional report also included concerns that no one offered much help when the investigation tried to find out if these diesel-pumping violations occurred near water supplies. The report’s description of the situation resembled the blame game of the BP oil spill, where well owners, drilling operators, and service companies all said it was somebody else’s fault. “None of the oil and gas service companies could provide data on whether they performed hydraulic fracturing in or near underground sources of drinking water, telling us that the well operators, not the service companies, track that information.” 

The report also included a damning account about how each excuse was harder to believe, and cause for greater concern. “Although the oil and gas service companies did not keep records of whether they operated in or near underground sources of drinking water, they were able to report on whether their wells were drilled in coal-bed methane formations. Diesel use in coal-bed methane formations is of particular concern, since these formations tend to be shallower and closer to drinking water sources than conventional oil and gas production wells.” 

Not surprisingly, this merry-go-round even includes some of the same characters from the BP oil spill. Halliburton is this time cast as the supporting actor, as their supposed use of seven million gallons of diesel fuel is second only to newcomer, BJ Services’ alleged use of 11.5 million gallons of diesel while fracking. Sometimes the remake is better than the original.  

There is, of course, the possibility that despite these apparent violations of the law, that not one gallon of diesel fuel came in contact with any drinking water supplies. There is no definitive proof at this time that fracking is contaminating people’s water. There’s plenty of noise, but few certainties. This all comes down to trust. The natural gas industry may be in for an uphill battle.

Fracking finger-pointing starts as drinking water violations roll in
Diesel fuel said to be used as part of the fracking process in states around the nation.