Weather Forecast


EPA: No ND fracking moratorium

BISMARCK -- Neither North Dakota nor oil companies "really need to be concerned" about an Environmental Protection Agency moratorium on fracking in western North Dakota, an EPA official said Wednesday.

State concerns about the EPA reached a boiling point this week when a media outlet reported Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms "believes the Environmental Protection Agency is on track to stop fracking as soon as January."

"Fracking" is the energy industry slang term for hydraulic fracturing, a process that has fueled North Dakota's oil boom.

Helms was not available for comment Wednesday, but said in a statement earlier this week that he "made no such prediction and (has) no reasonable basis to make one at this time."

The EPA does not have a plan or have the authority to stop oil and gas production, said Jim Martin, the EPA administrator for Region 8 in Denver.

However, the EPA has certain authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to make sure hydraulic fracturing operations using diesel fuels do so in a manner that doesn't pollute water supplies or affect public health, he said.

The typical North Dakota Bakken frack contains 0.088 percent petroleum distillates, according to a November document from the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., called EPA officials after hearing concerns that North Dakota's oil industry would be shut down.

"They said right up front that the EPA is not planning a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota," he said.

But the EPA is going to provide guidelines that state regulators can use to draft rules governing the use of diesel fuel in fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said. The agency is still working on the definition of diesel.

Hoeven said the definition needs to be realistic, considering diesel is a product of petroleum, which is being recovered.

"How you define diesel matters ... if the compound you use (in fracking) is included under the definition of diesel, then you are subject to the requirements, so we want to make sure that those guidelines are workable," Hoeven said.

The EPA will provide a process for the state to provide input on the guidelines before they're finalized, Hoeven said. He emphasized the need for the EPA to provide certainty so the private sector can decide how to invest in housing and businesses in the Oil Patch.

Hoeven said the discussions with the EPA following the confusion this week were beneficial.

"I think (before) there wasn't as much information on exactly what was going on as we needed to have," he said. "We've gotten more information, but also -- in getting that more information -- I think it's been important that we've clearly established with them that it's got to be something that works for our state."

North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said there was "a lot of angst" this week, judging by the number of phone calls he received.

"It wasn't just people in the oil and gas industry," Ness said. "It was people across all sectors of North Dakota."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.