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The Environmental Protection Agency said fears a moratorium will be placed on hydraulic fracturing are unfounded.

The agency is in the process of conducting a congressionally-ordered study of hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking." Hydraulic fracturing is used to retrieve natural gas and oil and is widely used in North Dakota's oil fields. Pressurized fluids, which can include small amounts of diesel, are forced into fractures to extract the wanted substances.

Separately, the EPA plans to issue guidelines for states such as North Dakota to issue permits for use of hydraulic fracturing involving diesel. The EPA has authority under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to make sure hydraulic fracturing operations do not pollute drinking waters when diesel fuels are used in the processes, the agency said.

"The guidance document is not intended to be a regulatory document and would not itself require any state to change its regulations," Jim Martin, EPA's regional administrator in Denver. said in a statement to the Tribune. "In fact, it is based on existing best practices in use by the industry today."

The issue of the EPA's study has been a point of discussion in North Dakota for some time. In early November, legislators included $1 million in a disaster relief bill to allow the state Industrial Commission to join lawsuits involving potential EPA regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

In comments to the Tribune for a story that ran Sunday, Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, indicated it was possible the EPA could put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing as soon as January. However, Helms since has said he was not predicting that as an outcome.

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Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement Tuesday the EPA has clarified it will not put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Hoeven arranged a conference call Tuesday with EPA officials, in which the agency said it will provide a process for the state of North Dakota to comment on the guidelines before they are finalized. The state will continue as the primary regulator of hydraulic fracturing.

Cynthia Dougherty, EPA's director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, said in the call that the agency is working on a definition of diesel. Martin, in his statement to the Tribune, said the EPA will provide additional opportunities for states, the public and other stakeholders to comment on its draft guidance as soon as it is ready.

"The American people do not have to choose between securing an available energy resource and protecting its drinking water from pollution," his statement said. "They can have and deserve both."

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Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.

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