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House Inquiry Reveals Continued Use of Diesel Fuel in Hydrofracking

Leading House opponents of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) said their nearly year-long investigation revealed that oil and natural gas service companies have continued to use diesel fuel to produce shale gas without receiving regulatory approval.

Oil and gas service companies injected more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydrofracking fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states between 2005 and 2009, said Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), who opened the inquiry last February into the potential health and environmental risks associated with hydrofracking of shale gas (see Daily GPI, Feb. 19, 2010).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Waxman in 2010, sent letters to companies that engage in hydrofracking around the country -- Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger, as well as Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corp. and Calfrac Well Services -- asking them to identify the types and quantities of chemicals used in hydrofracking fluids.

"The information we have reviewed shows that the oil and gas industry has injected millions of gallons of diesel fuel and hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel since 2005. These activities appear to be a violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA] because the companies did not obtain permits authorizing the injection of diesel fuel," the House lawmakers wrote in a letter to Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which also is conducting a probe of the risks associated with hydrofracking (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010). In 2005 Congress exempted hydrofracking fluids from the SDWA except when the fluids contain diesel.

"We are unable to draw definitive conclusions about the potential impact of these injections on public health or the environment. The oil and gas service companies we contacted were able to provide only limited information about the proximity of their hydraulic fracturing operations to underground sources of drinking waters. Moreover, because they did not apply for the permits required under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the regulatory agencies that would have reviewed the permit applications knew little about the diesel injections or what their potential impact might be," Waxman, Markey and DeGette said.

"We urge you [the EPA] to examine the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel as part of your investigation into the industry's practices. This appears to be an area of significant noncompliance with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act," they said.

Between 2005 and 2009, 12 companies used 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel or fluids containing diesel fuel. BJ Services used the most diesel fuel and fluids containing diesel, more than 11.5 million gallons. It was followed by Halliburton, which used 7.2 million gallons. Four other companies -- RPC (4.3 million gallons), Sanjel (3.6 million gallons), Weatherford (2.1 million gallons), and Key Energy Services (1.6 million gallons) -- used more than one million gallons of diesel fuels and fluids containing diesel.

Companies injecting less than one million included Basic Energy Services (204,013 gallons), Complete (4,625 gallons), Frac Tech (159,371 gallons), Superior (833,431 gallons), Schlumberger (443,689 gallons) and Trican (92,537 gallons).

Diesel-containing fluids were used most frequently in Texas, which accounted for half of the total volume injected -- 16 million gallons. The companies injected at least one million gallons of diesel-containing fluids in Oklahoma (3.3 million gallons), North Dakota (3.1 million gallons), Louisiana (2.9 million gallons), Wyoming (2.9 million gallons) and Colorado (1.3 million gallons), the House lawmakers said.

And state regulators seemed to be blind to the use of diesel fuel in hydrofracking, they noted. "An engineer from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, for example, said that diesel is 'rarely used' and said he knew of only one time diesel fuel was used in hydraulic fracturing in Colorado. The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates oil and gas activity in that state, responded that it only recently learned that a handful of companies may have used diesel fuel without prior approval."

As for the risk to ground water, "oil and gas service companies did not keep records of whether they operated in or near underground sources of drinking water, [but] they were able to report on whether their wells were drilling in coalbed methane formations. Diesel used in coalbed methane formations is of particularly concern, since these formations tend to be shallower and closer to drinking water sources than conventional oil and gas production wells," Waxman, Markey and DeGette said.

"The three largest companies -- Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger -- told the committee that they stopped using diesel fuel in coalbed methane formations located in underground sources of drinking water. Three smaller companies reported using a limited volume of products containing diesel in coalbed methane wells but did not provide information on the proximity of these wells to drinking water sources."

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