An environmental group on Wednesday decried the continued use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing, but energy industry officials dismissed the group’s study as a misleading attempt to discredit the practice that has helped launch a domestic oil and natural gas renaissance.
The Environmental Integrity Project released a report on the topic Wednesday after studying records submitted to the chemical disclosure database FracFocus.org.
FracFocus was established in 2011 as a voluntary registry by the Oklahoma City-based Groundwater Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, but regulators in Oklahoma and other states require companies to use the site to log chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
Mary Greene, a former enforcement attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the Environmental Integrity Project review found more than 350 wells in a dozen states were fracture stimulated with diesel, even though the industry repeatedly has said that no longer occurs.
“We thought this problem was a thing of the past,” she said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “We didn’t expect to find anything when we started down this path.”
Hydraulic fracturing is a completion process that involves injecting thousands of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, into a well to stimulate oil and gas production.
The group’s database indicated hydraulic fracturing operations at 24 wells in Oklahoma had included diesel since 2011.
The leading offender, according to the report, was an affiliate of Dallas-based Mid-Con Energy Partners LP, which operated half of the Oklahoma wells on the list.
Mid-Con Energy’s general counsel said it does not use diesel in its hydraulic fracturing operations, indicating the service company hired to complete the listed wells made a mistake in entering data into FracFocus.
Energy in Depth, an education and outreach campaign launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, dismissed the Environmental Integrity Project report.
“A closer look reveals that EIP is distorting the data and deliberately misleading the public about the use of diesel, as well as the rules and regulations that apply,” Energy in Depth researcher Katie Brown wrote Wednesday on the campaign’s website.
Brown said more than 280 instances cited by the environmental group involved kerosene, not diesel. Kerosene was not considered a diesel fuel until the EPA issued its final guidance in February.
She said only seven instances cited by the Environmental Integrity Project came after that date. All of those were in Oklahoma or Texas, where state regulators are responsible for issuing permits rather than the EPA.
Greene said the February guidance issued by the EPA did not change the rules regarding the use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing; it only offered clarification.
The release of the Environmental Integrity Project report originally was scheduled for June, but it was delayed while officials continued to scrutinize FracFocus data.
Greene said some oil and gas companies have been changing the information submitted to the registry to remove any indication diesel had been used, but Energy in Depth contends the changes were made to correct errors in data entry.
Greene said diesel contains toxic chemicals that could threaten drinking water sources or cause serious health problems. It cannot be used in hydraulic fracturing without a permit.
“We urge 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,” she said in a news release. “Companies that inject diesel without permits should be fined for ignoring the law.”
Energy in Depth maintains hydraulic fracturing is a safe process, noting there has not been a single case of water contamination linked to it.