The oil and gas industry is ignoring a requirement to get permits before using diesel in hydraulic fracturing, putting at risk drinking water supplies near wells, an environmental watchdog group reported.
The Environmental Integrity Project combed through data on an industry-backed website and found 351 wells since 2010 that were fracked with chemicals that match the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of diesel. In 143 cases, the operator later erased the disclosure from the FracFocus site, the group said in the report released today.
“Companies that inject diesel without permits should be fined for ignoring the law,” Mary Greene, the group’s managing attorney who wrote the report, said in a statement. “The public deserves more disclosure and transparency about the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.”
According to Greene, disclosures were erased from FracFocus after the EPA in February issued a preliminary definition of which chemical compounds qualified as diesel.
In 2005, Congress exempted fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to free gas or oil trapped in rock formations, from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Health advocates labeled the exemption the “Halliburton loophole,” referring to Halliburton Co., the largest provider of fracking services, led by Richard Cheney before he was elected vice president in 2000.
The law gave the EPA continued oversight of fracking if diesel is part of the injecterd mix, in large part because EPA said use of that fuel poses the greatest threat to drinking water. Diesel is typically used when the underground rock or clay has a tendency to absorb water and contains benzene and other carcinogenic compounds, according to a 2011 report by Democrats on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Companies have phased out the use of diesel, and now are doing the same for kerosene and fuel oil that are included in the EPA’s definition of diesel, said Lee Fuller, vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a group for drillers such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. Drillers probably erased the diesel classification as they corrected data-entry mistakes, he said.
“They are going back and finding their original reports were incorrect,” Fuller said today in an interview.
The 351 wells identified by the group are among 77,659 included in the FracFocus database. “That’s a pretty small number out of 77,600,” Fuller said.