Dems: Diesel used in frac jobs without permits *update*

Industry injected more than 32 million gallons of diesel and fluids containing diesel into wells as part of hydraulic fracturing operations between 2005 and 2009 without seeking permits from regulators, according to a report issued today by a congressional committee.

In a letter sent to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson today, Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Edward J. Markey and Diana DeGette say the diesel injections were done in wells in 19 states, likely in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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

The full text of the letter is below or you can open it here.

Congress outlawed the use of diesel used in frac jobs in coal bed methane formations because drinking water and the methane targets tend to be closer together than in other formations.

When the committee started looking into the issue last year the initial response from BJ Services was that it accidentally allowed the use of diesel in some frac jobs to continue (although today’s letter seems to indicate the company has changed its tune slightly). Halliburton said the diesel ban only applied to coal bed methane formations, so it was not in error for the continued use.

What this new letter seems to indicate is that even in areas were the use of diesel was permitted in frac jobs, companies still needed to apply for a permit and prove they wouldn’t endanger drinking water supplies.

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Update:

Matthew Armstrong, an attorney with Bracewell & Guiliani who represents a number of companies involved in hydraulic fracturing, says the letter from the lawmakers is misleading.

“The letter relies entirely on the notion that historically the EPA has regulated hydraulic fracturing, but that’s not the case,” Armstrong said.

The first time the EPA ever said it would require companies to file permits to use diesel in non-coal bed methane fracking operations was June 2010, Armstrong said, many months after the time period covered by the study referenced in the lawmakers’ letter.

Previously, the only referece the EPA made to regulating fracturing was in 2005 to say, generally, that it did not regulate the practice (with the exception of diesel’s use in coal bed methane formations), Armstrong said.

And even the June 2010 announcement that EPA requires permits before diesel is used in frac jobs is being challenged in federal court. Companies say the way the EPA announced the policy — on it’s web site, without first publishing it in the Federal Register or seeking public comment — is not legally binding.

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Texas saw the greatest volume of diesel injected into wells via fracking:

Does this mean drinking water was contaminated with diesel? The reps say they don’t know:

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 water.

Moreover, because the companies 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.


Jackson.epadieselFracking.2011.1.31

19 Comments

  1. So why exactly is pumping petroleum into a formation that is already lousy with petroleum a problem?

    #1
  2. Rob

    Ok Mr. Waxman, is an EPA permit required for the use of oil based mud in drilling wells? Just in case you don’t know, oil based mud contains diesel and by the nature of drilling mud, sometimes it is lost to the formation when the frac gradient is exceeded.

    #2
  3. Tom G.

    Thanks to readers for informative posts. For a short-while, I thought we really messed up our water supply until you guys posted the obvious. They’re injecting petro into a petro reservior.

    #3
  4. WriterDude

    The problem is that the injected fluids don’t stay in the petroleum resevoir. By fracking, they are disrupting rock formations underground which allows the fluids to escape to other layers, including aquafers.
    See “Gastown.”

    #4
  5. TransAmer99

    Ah yes, the regulatory science of “We don’t know, but maybe…” But wait a minute – these reservoirs already contain hydrocarbons! Looks like another case of political foot-in-mouth disease. To prevent drilling mud from contaminating water supplies, reputable companies run casing with seals at the appropriate intervals. Waxman and company are clearly out of their league when trying to understand drilling. It isn’t like sticking a straw into a Big Gulp and sucking!

    #5
  6. JoeG

    No fracking way!!!!!

    #6
  7. JR Ring

    Devil’s Advocate: Maybe the problem is that the law was broken. Why not get a permit? Why try to end run the regs? And what about that pesky lease provision in many leases requiring the lessee to follow the law?

    #7
  8. meetwoodflac

    Waxman has been on the energy committee for years and has been the head of it for as long as I can remember. One thing hasn’t changed with him: he is as ignorant of oil company practices and procedures today as he was years ago. One would think he could actually learn from his huge mistakes or else learn to remain quietly ignorant. But no, at every turn he seems almost happy to expose how very little he understands. His knee-jerk liberal reactions to anything that could remotely bear any fruit for him with regard to environmentalists is only laughable, except that he is able to get a lot of press.
    Isolating fresh water formations from the bore of an oil or gas well by metal pipe and cement (and usually great distances) is most fundamental and even Waxman should know this.

    #8
  9. JC

    Guys I was born and raised around the oil patches for a period of time and Rorschach and Rob comments are correct. The EPA need to do their home work and get some people that knows exactly of what is going on. Some sites also use brine water to inject into other type wells to boost the line pressure for delivery of ethylene and propylene gas to their customers. Both of these gases are derived from fracturing process of oil but this is another story.

    #9
  10. cannedspaghetti

    Who cares if we ruin the drinking water forever for thousands of people? Obviously they are too poor to move so let them get sick and die. Taking off the whole tops of mountains hasn’t hurt anyone in River Oaks yet has it?

    #10
  11. Ben

    We don’t need to regulate the oil industry or any other industry. The “market” will do the regulating. Just like the crappy Chinese sheetrock, you don’t see it anymore. Too bad about all you suckers who bought a house full though.

    #11
  12. JPaulIII

    Throw those frackers in jail.

    #12
  13. SaltWaterCroc

    Sure, there are practices and procedures to prevent polluting ground water, but it happens all the time. Spend some time around Seguin or out in West Texas. And when the water becomes polluted (if you find out in time before you become sick and die), your only option is to spend the money to drill a deeper well. There is no remedy against polluters, particularly in this state.

    #13
  14. Trail Trash

    If people are really worried about their fresh water, then they need to more concerned about what goes down their kitchen sink then what goes down a wellbore.

    #14
  15. TexKB

    So anyone would take the word of these proven liar Dem Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Edward J. Markey and Diana DeGette trying to neuter America with their climate change agenda? Come on already.

    #15
  16. Diogenes

    Dems never speak the truth and always try to wreak havoc with half-truths and any misleading statement that can cause fear and panic.

    #16
  17. XLR8R

    Saltwatercroc, your comment is based strictly on contaminating “GROUND” water, not the subsurface aquifers. In horizontal wells it is necessary to use an oil based mud to get the drill bit and casing down to depth without sticking (hopefully as sticking does occur). Prior to fracing, however the well is circulated “bottoms up” to remove debris and as much as the drilling fluid as possible. After taht, the casing or liner is cemented in place. Fracing takes place long after this and typically uses non-potable water and propant, not diesel.

    #17
  18. Scott in Richmond

    By the way, did anyone notice that the alleged violations happened between 2005 and 2009, and that the EPA didn’t announce the policy until June, 2010? Even then, because the EPA did not follow procedure, the policy may not be legally binding.

    #18
  19. Eastender

    More Tree Huggers!!

    #19