Still Fracking with Diesel After All These Years

By John Noël, National Oil and Gas Program Coordinator – follow John on Twitter

Today our allies at the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released a groundbreaking report on the oil and gas industry’s use of diesel fuels in fracture fluids. As we’ve written before, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), except when diesel fuels are used. Even under intense industry pressure, Congress recognized the potentially toxic impacts from injecting diesel fuels underground. This process is alarming because of the toxic chemicals contained in diesel fuels, especially the “BTEX” compounds. “BTEX” compounds – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – are highly mobile in ground water and present an elevated threat when injected underground at high pressures. Health impacts associated with these chemicals include cancer, nervous system problems, kidney and liver problems and anemia.

The report appropriately sums it up, “To put this in perspective, a quarter teaspoon of benzene is enough to make an average swimming pool exceed the benzene MCL [Maximum Contaminant Level].” Not something you want anywhere near your drinking water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) clearly states that the use of diesel fuels in hydraulic fracturing activities is prohibited without first acquiring a permit under SDWA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. However, as Clean Water Action noted when EPA finalized Guidance for writing these permits, no such permit has yet been issued. Today’s report confirms that the oil and gas industry has continued to operate outside the law. At least 33 companies fracked over 351 wells, across 12 states, with fluids containing diesel fuel yet NO permits were issued from 2010 through August 2014.

Other revelations in the report:

  • Diesel fuels were used to frack wells in Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Montana
  • Relying on FracFocus is troubling and inadequate because industry has the ability to go back and change its disclosures records. Multiple companies retroactively removed certain entries relating to diesel fuels from FracFocus.
  • Frack fluid products containing diesel fuels are still being sold by manufactures and companies like Halliburton without the slightest indication of a permit requirement.

What is astounding about these new disclosures is that it’s not the first time industry has denied using diesel fuels and then been caught. When Congress included the diesel fuels caveat in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, industry said no permits for diesel were necessary because it wasn’t being used. However, a 2011 Congressional investigation found that more than 32 million gallons of diesel were injected underground in hydraulic fracturing operations between 2005 and 2009. A somewhat embarrassing moment for industry, but they continued to deny its use. EIP cites a 2010 statement by Energy In Depth, “diesel fuel is simply not used in fracturing operations.”

When EPA released the final Guidance noted above in February 2014, industry spokespeople again claimed that drillers no longer used diesel fuels and that they had been phased out long ago.

“This appears to be a solution in search of a problem: Based on actual industry practices, diesel fuel use has already been effectively phased out of hydraulic fracturing operations,” said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations at the Independent Petroleum Association of American in an LA Times article said in February of this year as the guidance was released. Again, as this new report indicates, another false statement.

Clean Water Action has long called for a prohibition on diesel fuels in hydraulic fracturing. In a 2011 report, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee concluded that “The Subcommittee believes there is no technical or economic reason to use diesel in shale gas production.”

Further, a recent Governmental Accountability Office investigation reported that industry’s ability to claim trade secrets on portions of its fracture fluids and the voluntary disclosure requirements in some states, rendered EPA’s ability to adequately protect public health and the environment incomplete.

Clean Water Action continues to call on EPA and Congress to ensure proper implementation of the SDWA and to protect critical drinking water now and for future generations:

  • EPA should initiate a rulemaking to codify into law the strictest possible requirements in order to protect underground sources of drinking water. Concerned readers can take action here to send that message to EPA.
  • In light of ongoing indications of unpermitted diesel use, EPA should reconsider its decision not to prohibit diesel use entirely.
  • EPA should investigate taking enforcement actions against all the companies listed in the report who injected diesel without a permit .
  • Congressional leaders should conduct hearings around apparent oil and gas industry misstatements and about continued vulnerability of underground sources of drinking water.
  • Congressional leaders should revisit efforts to reverse the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which exempted hydraulic fracturing from the SDWA in order to restore EPA’s ability to protect underground sources of drinking from ALL injection activity.

Posted on August 13, 2014  | Filed Under Global Warming and a New Energy Economy, Making Democracy Work, Protecting America's Waters | 2 Comments


2 Responses to “Still Fracking with Diesel After All These Years”

  1. Still Fracking with Diesel After All These Years | on August 13th, 2014 9:01 pm

    […] Posted on August 13, 2014 | Filed Under Global Warming and a New Energy Economy, Making Democracy Work, Protecting America’s Waters | Leave a Comment […]

  2. Steve Hansen on August 14th, 2014 11:17 am

    Diesel belongs in the fuel tank . . . not in the ground water.

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