Environmental group says drillers using diesel fuel for fracking without proper permits



At least four Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies in Pennsylvania have used kerosene, a diesel fuel equivalent, in their hydraulic fracturing fluid mixture without getting required federal permits, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted most “fracking” chemicals from federal regulation under the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” but still required fracking operations using diesel to get special permits.

The Environmental Integrity Project report, however, found that the companies drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania did not apply for those Safe Drinking Water Act permits and the EPA did not enforce its own regulations.

The 25 Pennsylvania wells are among 351 in 12 states that used small amounts of diesel fuel or its chemical hydrocarbon equivalents as a corrosion inhibitor in fracking fluids from 2010 through July of this year, according to the report, issued this week.

None of the 33 drilling companies applied for permits, said the report by EIP, a Washington, D.C.-based organization led by former EPA regulators that advocates for enforcement of existing federal and state anti-pollution laws.

The EPA said it conducted a lengthy review to clarify what diesel-related chemical components are covered by the fracking permit requirement. Drilling companies and industry organizations said diesel use has largely been phased out and criticized the EIP report as “distorted” and “misleading.”

The report found that almost 40,000 gallons of diesel chemicals were injected at 351 wells, including about 22 gallons at 25 Pennsylvania wells. The report is based on data from FracFocus, the voluntary, national fracking chemical disclosure registry used by the drilling industry, plus information from the EPA and states.

“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 Mary Greene, author of the report and a former EPA enforcement office attorney. “We urge the EPA and the states to exercise their legal authority by immediately investigating the compliance status of these 351 wells and taking all necessary steps to make sure they are properly permitted.”

If diesel is spilled or breaches a well’s containment, it is highly mobile in groundwater, Ms. Greene said, and it contains chemical carcinogens that pose a significant threat to human health.

George Hull, an EPA spokesman, said in an email that because the Energy Policy Act of 2005 did not define the term “diesel,” EPA didn’t enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act’s permitting provisions for nine years while it sought a “scientifically-supported definition.”

After receiving more than 97,000 comments and consulting with industry and petroleum experts, it finalized a diesel definition that includes kerosene in February, he said.

Mr. Hull said the agency informed companies in its 2014 guidance that they would need an Underground Injection Control Class II permit if they continued to use diesel additives as solvents and corrosion inhibitors.

In Pennsylvania, the shale gas wells “fracked” using small amounts of kerosene are in Westmoreland, Crawford, Tioga, Lycoming, Potter and Elk counties. Twenty-four were fracked in 2011, including 18 by Seneca Resources Inc., four by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and two by XTO Energy Inc., a Fort Worth, Texas, energy company that is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. One well, the Fred Miller Unit 1 shale gas well in Crawford County, was fracked by Range Resources in March 2013.

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, said none of the Pennsylvania wells cited in the report was in violation of the 2014 EPA guidance and used kerosene, not diesel.

“This report is a purposeful misrepresentation of the facts, as EIP is attempting to retroactively apply EPA’s 2014 guidance to wells completed prior to the guidance being issued,” said Mr. Creighton.

Seneca spokesman Rob Boulware said the company had stopped using kerosene in fracking.

Andarko spokesman John Christiansen said it now has “a strict policy against the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluids, and XTO stopped using diesel for fracking in 2011 and kerosene in 2012, said spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg.

Matt Pitzarella of Range Resources said the company used a little less than a quart of kerosene at one well in 2013, a year before the new guidance was issued.

Ms. Greene said the drilling companies are parsing terms when they insist kerosene isn’t diesel. Kerosene and #1 diesel fuel are chemically closely related, and differences in the refined petroleum products are insignificant in terms of potential groundwater contamination, she said.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published August 14, 2014 11:52 AM

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