Oil and Gas Companies Illegally Using Diesel in Fracking

By Adam Federman, Earth Island Journal

Posted on February 1, 2011

The 2005 Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act famously exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. But it made one small exception: diesel fuel. The Policy Act states that the term “underground injection,” as it relates to the Safe Drinking Water Act, “excludes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities [italics added by author].” But a congressional investigation has found that oil and gas service companies used tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel in fracking operations between 2005 and 2009, thus violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. Hydraulic fracturing is a method of drilling that injects large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand underground at high pressure to break open rock formations and release stores of natural gas. In some cases, however, water based fluids are less effective and diesel fuel or other hydrocarbons may be used.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the congressional committee noted that between 2005 and 2009, “oil and gas service companies injected 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.” None of the companies sought or received permits to do so. “This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the letter states. “It also means that the companies injecting diesel fuel have not performed the environmental reviews required by the law.”

Moreover, because the necessary environmental reviews were circumvented, the companies were unable to provide data on whether they had used diesel in fracking operations in or near underground sources of drinking water. Diesel fuel contains a number of toxic constituents including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

In the last few years, shale gas extraction has increased exponentially, raising fears that drinking water wells and underground aquifers may be at risk. It has become a particularly sensitive issue in the northeast’s Marcellus Shale, which underlies parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Later this month the Delaware River Basin Commission will hold public hearings on drilling in the watershed—a source of drinking water for more than 15 million people.

The EPA is currently conducting its own study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies due out in late 2012. But will companies that have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2005 be held accountable?

Matt Armstrong, a lawyer with the Washington firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents several oil and gas companies, told the New York Times, “Everyone understands that E.P.A. is at least interested in regulating fracking.” But: “Whether the E.P.A. has the chutzpah to try to impose retroactive liability for use of diesel in fracking, well, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode. I suspect it will have a significant fight on its hands if it tried it do that.”

To read this article online, click here:


To read the New York Times coverage of this issue, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/business/energy-environment/01gas.html

To read the Energy policy Act, click here: http://www.epa.gov/oust/fedlaws/publ_109-058.pdf

To read the letter from the Congressional Committee to EPA Administrator Jackson, click here: http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/waxman-markey-and-degette-investigation-finds-continued-use-of-diesel-in-hydraulic-fracturing-f

NOTE: The letter states, “In 2003, EPA signed a memorandum of agreement with the three largest providers of hydraulic fracturing to eliminate the use of diesel fuel in coalbed methane formations in underground sources of drinking water. Two years later, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act except when the fracturing fluids contain diesel. As a result, many assumed that the industry stopped using diesel fuel altogether in hydraulic fracturing…

According to EPA, any company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought—and no state and federal regulators have issued—permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing…

In a 2004 report, EPA stated that the ‘use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat’ to underground sources of drinking water….

In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which contained a provision addressing the application of Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to hydraulic fracturing. Congress modified the definition of ‘underground injection to exclude’ ‘the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas… The effect of this law is to exempt hydraulic fracturing from the underground injection control (UIC) permit requirements unless the fluid being injected is diesel fuel. As EPA states on its website: While the SDWA specifically excludes hydraulic fracturing from UIC regulation … the use of diesel fuel during hydraulic fracturing is still regulated by the UIC program. Any service company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive prior authorization from the UIC program….

2 Responses

  1. Industry seems not to care if their practices are safe but rather if they are legal. So who decides if they are safe? DEP? And how does DEP discover this? Seems to me that often it is Industry input. Or studies funded by industry. Witness Penn State and the Marcellus. Someone- please- prove me wrong.

    Drillers defend injecting diesel into ground
    3 in Congress suspect water law broken during hydraulic fracturing
    By TOM FOWLER Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle
    Jan. 31, 2011, 11:03PM

    Drilling companies injected more than 32 million gallons of fluids containing diesel into the ground during hydraulic fracturing operations from 2005 to 2009, according to federal lawmakers, but the industry says the practice was legal.

    In a letter sent Monday to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado said the diesel injections in 19 states may have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act because the companies did not seek permits for the activities.

    “We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought — and no state and federal regulators have issued – permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing,” wrote the representatives, the ranking Democratic members of three House panels with oversight on energy and environmental matters.

    “This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also means that the companies injecting diesel fuel have not performed environmental reviews required by the law.”

    Industry representatives said the EPA didn’t require permits for using diesel in hydraulic fracturing until June 2010 – after the period in the congressional study.

    “The letter relies entirely on the notion that historically the EPA has regulated hydraulic fracturing, and that’s not the case,” said Matthew Armstrong, an attorney with Bracewell & Guiliani who represents a number of energy companies.

    Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into underground formations to release greater quantities of gas and oil. The technique dates back several decades, but it has drawn new scrutiny from the public and regulators as its use has grown in recent years.

    Concerns include the potential for the chemicals to get into drinking water or for natural gas to migrate into water wells.

    The industry says such incidents are rare and can be avoided.

    Most hydraulic fracturing fluid uses water as its primary component, but in formations where water is absorbed too easily – such as in certain kinds of clay – diesel is used as an additive.

    It usually is just one component of the chemical used in the mix.

    Armstrong said about a third of the 32 million gallons referred to in the letter was straight diesel fuel.

    The EPA and industry agreed in 2003 that diesel wouldn’t be used in hydraulic fracturing jobs in coal bed methane formations, because drilling in those formations tends to be closer to drinking water sources.

    But oil field services giants Halliburton and BJ Services, among other companies, say that agreement doesn’t apply beyond drilling operations in those formations.

    The EPA first said it would require companies to seek permits to use diesel in non-coal bed operations last June, in a posting on the agency’s website.

    That wasn’t a proper way to change the rules, Halliburton said in a statement.

    “This action did not follow the standard administrative processes required in adopting new federal regulatory requirements, and the companies involved had no knowledge this change was being made by the EPA,” the company said.

    Halliburton is among the companies represented by the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the U.S. Oil & Gas Association, which are challenging the EPA’s new requirement. A federal appeals court in Washington recently denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, and the court will hear arguments later this year.

    Gary Flaharty, a spokesman for Baker Hughes – which recently acquired BJ Services, the company that used diesel most heavily in fracturing during the study period – said the EPA’s position during hearings before Waxman last year was that federal regulation did not expressly permit or prohibit the use of diesel in fracturing.

    “Retroactively requiring a permit is improper,” Flaharty said.

    The probe found no evidence that the use of diesel fuel contaminated water supplies, but it noted none of the companies could provide data on whether they performed hydraulic fracturing in or near underground sources of drinking water.

    The lawmakers are asking the EPA to look at diesel use in its ongoing study into the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

    About half of the 32.2 million gallons of fluid containing diesel was injected in Texas, followed by Oklahoma, North Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming.


  2. Stop Hydraulic Fracking NOW!!! There are other ways to obtain the Natural Gas in the Earth that do not pollute our drinking water. To anyone who received a leasing request from a gas company, burn it, don’t agree to it. Everyone must fight back to reclaim the earth for our children!!!

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