Glynis Board Published

“Fracking’s Toxic Loophole”: Report Calls for Repeal of Halliburton’s Loophole

Fracking, Fluid

A new report has just been published that identifies large amounts of toxic chemicals legally used in the oil and gas industry—such chemical-use in any other industrial application is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Not so for the gas industry.

There’s a well-known exemption that oil and gas industry operates under. It’s called the “Halliburton Loophole,” named after the previous Vice President Dick Cheney’s former oil and gas company, because it is widely perceived to be a law shaped Cheney’s Energy Task Force.

Officially the “Energy Policy Act of 2005,”  it exempts the gas industry from requirements listed in the Safe Drinking Water—except when it comes to diesel fuel.

The EPA reserved the right to regulate diesel because it contains highly toxic chemicals like benzene, a known, dangerous carcinogen. Executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project Eric Schaeffer explained in a teleconference earlier this week…

“You can’t inject diesel without a Safe Drinking Water Act permit because of the benzene, but you can inject anything else,” Schaeffer said, “actually you can inject benzene directly if you want to without a Safe Drinking Water Act Permit courtesy of the Halliburton Loophole.”

The Safe Drinking Water Act affords us more stringent protections, which Schaeffer says are much needed, especially in light of recent findings in Pennsylvania. Since the fracking boom started in that state in 2008, Pennsylvania has identified 243 cases of private water supply contamination as the result of “oil and gas activities.”

Schaeffer authored a report issued by his organization, called “Fracking’s Toxic Loophole.” In it he points out that there are many fracking fluids that are made up of even higher concentrations of the same toxic compounds found in diesel; but since they aren’t labeled “diesel fuel,” they don’t require any special permits.

Regular, low-exposer to benzene is known to cause leukemia. The safe drinking water act limits exposure to 5 parts per billion. Schaeffer points out that in diesel fuel, benzene is present in one part per thousand. 

Schaeffer also mentioned that there are several fracking fluids being sold that market themselves as free of harsh chemicals like benzene. But he wasn’t able to speculate about how popular or more or less financially viable those options are. Just that they exist.

Schaeffer made a point to cast a shadow of doubt on his sources. His report was based on information from Material Safety Data Sheets, and disclosures listed on—an industry-sponsored, web site where companies self-report information.

His organization, The Environmental Integrity Project, recommends that Congress repeal the Halliburton Loophole, and that state agencies require suppliers and well operators to disclose when fracking fluids exceed toxic chemical concentrations found in diesel fuels.

In West Virginia, state lawmakers have considered full disclosure laws, but those efforts always failed to gain any momentum in Charleston because of industry lobbying.