This story has had updates since appearing in print.
A report released Wednesday contends that some gas and oil drillers have used or are using diesel fuel while fracking, in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act – and despite industry denials of doing so.
Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog organization, examined self-reported data from drilling companies and federal records from 2010 through the early part of this month. It found that at least 33 companies have fracked at least 351 wells in 12 states while using diesel fuel amid their fracking fluids.
EIP also said it found proof that some drilling firms had gone into FracFocus, a self-disclosure database listing chemicals they employed during fracking, and eliminated disclosures of previous diesel use.
Diesel contains toxic chemicals, including benzene, that can cause cancer or serious health issues, even in small amounts.
“Prohibition of diesel use without a permit has been on the books for a long time,” said Mary Greene, senior managing attorney at EIP and author of the report, “Fracking Beyond the Law.”
Greene said diesel is used in fracking to stimulate wells and open up formations, but the concern is “diesel moves quickly through groundwater, so it can get to a source of drinking water quickly.”
Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among those 12 states, along with Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
The report has its detractors, though. A spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which works with oil and gas companies and their supply chain partners, said in a statement:
“This ‘study’ misrepresents, perhaps purposefully, several key facts, including the definition of diesel versus kerosene, which was clarified by EPA in February of this year. Prior to EPA’s guidance, kerosene was not classified as diesel.
“It’s also important to recognize . . . that the volumes of kerosene used, in line with EPA’s previous guidance, represented nearly immeasurably fractions of 1 percent of the overall fracturing fluids, and that EPA, along with . . . other state regulatory agencies, have stated clearly that fracturing has never impacted groundwater.”
Greene, a former enforcement attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency, presented details of the report Wednesday during a phone news conference with reporters nationwide.
She said five operators used diesel fuel at 57 wells in Pennsylvania during this period of four-plus years, and no incident was in Washington or Allegheny counties.
Greene, however, said that wasn’t the case in Greene County.
“Quite a number of wells were fracked in Greene County by Energy Corp. of America. All had changed disclosures,” she said.
Energy Corp., based in Charleston, W.Va., denied that in a statement in response to the report:
“ECA has not used diesel products in our hydraulic fracturing fluids. We have reviewed the EIP’s report and found … the data the report references was actually downloaded from the FracFocus database two years ago and it contains both outdated and inaccurate information about ECA.”
ECA said a vendor reported inaccurate information that led to the wrong data being entered in the database. When the company became aware of the error, it corrected the entries.
“The database currently and accurately reflects that we have not used diesel fuels in our hydraulic fracturing fluids. If you go to FracFocus.org, you can see this for yourself. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the company should not be included in the group’s report and the current FracFocus database clearly supports this assertion.”
The five companies, Greene said, are Energy Corp., Range Resources, Anadarko, Seneca Resources and XTO. Range, according to a chart accompanying an online version of the report, was involved with only one such well – Greene said it was in Crawford County in March 2013.
EIP reaped five conclusions from the study: eliminate diesel use in fracking or properly permit it; increase FracFocus transparency and accountability; require suppliers of fracking products containing diesel to label products and advise operators to get Safe Drinking Water Act permits; require drilling firms to disclose all fracking fluids; and make states list diesel-based fracking products requiring a permit.
Near the end of the news conference, Greene made a clear. cautionary point about diesel usage.
“We’re hoping the (EPA) will continue to educate the states, and the opreators in the states, that this is a dangerous process.”
The report is available at environmentalintegrity.org.
Business editor Michael Bradwell contributed to this report.