Report alleges Marcellus drillers lacked permits for fracking with diesel

A new report from an environmental group says that natural gas drillers, including some in Pennsylvania, are fracking wells with diesel fuel, or fuels similar to it, without required federal permits to protect against potential health hazards.

Under the “Halliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress exempted chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing from federal oversight, but still required permits for diesel.

The Environmental Integrity Project report points to four drilling companies tapping the Marcellus Shale of using kerosene, a diesel-like fuel, for fracking 25 wells in Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The report alleges that those drillers did not apply for the Safe Drinking Water Act permits required to use kerosene and the EPA didn’t enforce its own regulations.

From the Post-Gazette:

The 25 Pennsylvania wells are among 351 in 12 states that used small amounts of diesel fuel or its chemical hydrocarbon equivalents as a corrosion inhibitor in fracking fluids from 2010 through July of this year, according to the report, issued this week.

None of the 33 drilling companies applied for permits, said the report by EIP, a Washington, D.C.-based organization led by former EPA regulators that advocates for enforcement of existing federal and state anti-pollution laws.

If diesel is spilled or breaches a well’s containment, it is highly mobile in groundwater, [said Mary Greene, author of the report and a former EPA enforcement office attorney], and it contains chemical carcinogens that pose a significant threat to human health.

An EPA spokesman told the newspaper that because the 2005 policy did not define the term “diesel,” EPA didn’t enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act’s permitting provisions for nine years while it sought a “scientifically-supported definition.”

The agency stated it’s diesel definition (which includes kerosene) in February and informed drilling companies that they would need a special permit if they continued to use diesel additives for fracking.

Drilling companies and industry groups said diesel use has largely been phased out and called the report “misleading” and a distortion of facts, according to the article.

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, said none of the Pennsylvania wells cited in the report was in violation of the 2014 EPA guidance and used kerosene, not diesel.

“This report is a purposeful misrepresentation of the facts, as EIP is attempting to retroactively apply EPA’s 2014 guidance to wells completed prior to the guidance being issued,” said Mr. Creighton.

The report relied on data held by FracFocus, a national registry in which drilling companies voluntarily disclose chemicals they use for fracking. The report said almost 40,000 gallons of diesel chemicals were used to frack 321 wells across the country, and out of that 22 gallons were used in 25 Pennsylvania wells.

Small amounts of kerosene were used for fracking in Westmoreland, Crawford, Tioga, Lycoming, Potter and Elk counties, according to the report.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org.