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:
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: