A new report has found that since 2010 fossil fuel companies have used more than 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel across the country to frack for oil and gas without obtaining the required federal permits. The report, called, “Fracking Beyond The Law,” by the Environmental Integrity Project, a D.C. nonprofit established by environmental attorneys, found that at least 33 companies fracked at least 351 wells across 12 states with fluids containing diesel.
The passing of the 2005 Energy Policy Act by Congress established what is commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole” in which the EPA was stripped of its authority to regulate a number of fracking fluids that could reveal the companies’ trade secrets. However diesel fuels, which contain high levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, or xylene — known carcinogens and neurotoxins — remain under the jurisdiction of the EPA as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The industry has repeatedly asserted the the use of diesel fuel in fracking no longer occurs and those denials continued along with the release of this report.
The industry groups say that companies are phasing out diesel, which as of earlier this year was used in around two percent of wells, and that companies were using kerosene, which wasn’t listed as a diesel fuel until February. The industry group Energy in Depth also pointed out that the 351 wells the project cited as using diesel make up less than 0.5 percent of the 77,000 wells registered on FracFocus.
The EIP investigation asserts that the 351 wells they found using diesel is likely an underestimate as some oil and gas companies have been changing their FracFocus disclosures to remove indication of past diesel injections. FracFocus is a voluntary submission site that companies have agreed to use and which allows operators to update or replace previous disclosures without justification. EIP planned to release its report June 19 identifying 497 wells that used diesel, but when they double-checked their results they discovered 146 of the FracFocus entries had been altered to eliminate all references to diesel.
For example, in the past few days Bill Barrett Corp., operator of Peter’s Point well in Utah, changed their FracFocus database entry from indicating they used 496 gallons of diesel to saying that that entry was an error that had been corrected. A spokesman said that “a small percentage of one additive used kerosene, not diesel.”
Since updating its policy for clarification in February the EPA has clearly stated the kerosene counts as diesel when it comes to requiring a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released information in July indicating that the practice of fracking damaged public water supplies 209 times since the end of 2007. Diesel fuels were used to frack wells in Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Montana without required Safe Drinking Water Act permits according to the report.
“EPA and the states have an obligation to protect the public from the potential health hazards of fracking by enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said report author Mary Greene, Managing Attorney for EIP and a former EPA enforcement attorney.
EIP researchers also discovered numerous fracking fluids with high diesel content for sale online, including over a dozen products sold by Halliburton and advertised as additives, friction reducers, and emulsifiers. According to EPA’s February 2014 guidance, injection of any of these products requires a Safe Drinking Water Act permit.
“If ‘diesel fuel use has already been effectively phased out of hydraulic fracturing operations,’ as an industry representative stated as recently as February 2014, then why are these products still for sale?” states the report.