The Hydraulic Fracturing “Loophole” That Just Keeps Growing
Like a fish story, the “Halliburton loophole” grows a little with every telling.
It started 10 years ago as a narrow, little-known exemption to a federal environmental law embedded in sweeping energy legislation.
In the intervening years, it has grown to be an all-purpose bogeyman for environmentalists raging against hydraulic fracturing. And, in a new twist, even hydraulic fracturing boosters have now cast it as a bulwark against federal regulation of oil and gas drilling.
The one-paragraph section of the 551-page Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Underground Injection Control (UIC) provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The UIC portion regulates holes drilled to inject contaminants deep underground and wells used to force oil and gas to the surface.
It does not cover the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or any other environmental law. It does not cover other aspects of oil and gas, such as drilling or production. And, if an oil company is found to be polluting drinking water, the US EPA can still use SDWA to penalize it.
But to some, particularly the harshest critics of domestic production, the Halliburton loophole turned the oil field into the Wild West.
“Certain groups have used it to suggest there is no federal regulation of fracturing, which is not fully accurate,” said Hannah Wiseman, a Florida State University professor of law who studies regulation of oil and gas. “There are many other ways for states and the federal government to regulate hydraulic fracturing.”