Digging Deep: Diesel Used in ‘Fracking’

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @ 06:02 PM gHale

Oil and gas companies have injected more than 32 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel underground without first getting government approval, according to a congressional report.

Texas topped the list of states with the most diesel injected, followed by Oklahoma, North Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming.

The investigation found 12 of 14 companies hired to perform hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” used diesel alone or in a mixture during the five-year period.

Lawmakers said the use of diesel fuel by large companies, such as Halliburton and BJ Services Co., appears to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act, because the companies never obtained permission from state or federal authorities to use the diesel fuel.

The probe, which said 19 states used the injection method, found no evidence the use of diesel fuel contaminated water supplies. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and two other Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee led the year-long probe.

“The industry has been saying they stopped injecting toxic diesel fuel into wells. But our investigation showed this practice has been continuing in secret and in apparent violation” of the Safe Drinking Water Act, said Waxman, the panel’s senior Democrat and a former chairman.

None of the companies surveyed could provide data on whether they performed hydraulic fracturing in or near underground sources of drinking water, the lawmakers said. In fracking, drillers inject vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals underground so oil and natural gas will flow.

The technique has been around for decades but has come under increasing scrutiny as drilling crews flock to the Marcellus Shale, a rock bed the size of Greece that lies about 6,000 feet beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The practice of fracking also sees use in Colorado, New Mexico and other states.

A 2005 law exempted all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing except diesel fuel from federal regulations aimed at protecting drinking water. In 2003, three of the largest drilling companies signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate use of diesel fuel in coal bed methane formations in underground sources of drinking water. That agreement, coupled with the 2005 law, led many to assume the industry had stopped using diesel fuel altogether in hydraulic fracturing, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to EPA.

A Halliburton spokeswoman said the Energy and Commerce report was inaccurate.

“Halliburton does not believe that the company’s hydraulic fracturing activities have resulted in a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act or any other federal environmental law. There are currently no requirements in the federal environmental regulations that require a company to obtain a federal permit prior to undertaking a hydraulic fracturing project using diesel,” said spokeswoman Teresa Wong.

Gary Flaharty, a spokesman for Baker Hughes, which owns BJ Services, said the company was no longer using diesel fuel for fracking. The EPA’s position has been the regulations do not expressly address or prohibit the use of fuel in fracturing fluid, Flaharty said, adding that any attempt to retroactively impose a permit “is clearly improper.”

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