State to probe use of diesel fuel in fracking

Colorado oil and gas regulators have opened an investigation into the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing of wells after concerns raised by three members of Congress earlier this week.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, joined fellow Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts on Monday in saying more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fluid mixes that contain at least 30 percent of the fuel had been injected underground from 2005–09. That’s according to a yearlong investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The three said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that all of the fuel was used without permits in apparent violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The letter says 1.3 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel were used in Colorado. DeGette spokeswoman Juliet Johnson said specifics on where and by what companies the fuel was used in Colorado couldn’t be released because of companies’ proprietary concerns.

David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said Tuesday his agency has begun an investigation that will include: reviewing the agency’s database for possible information on diesel-fuel use; speaking with Energy and Commerce Committee staff; and, if necessary, obtaining information from energy developers and service companies.

“We take the letter seriously. It is essential that oil and gas development occur in an environmentally sensitive manner that protects our water resources, and that’s a fundamental part of our mission,” Neslin said.

He said agency rules such as those pertaining to well construction should protect drinking water from contamination if diesel fuel was used.

The Democrats’ letter quotes an unnamed engineer with Neslin’s agency as saying use of diesel fuel for fracturing in the state is rare.

Millions of gallons of fluid sometimes are used for fracturing one well, and thousands of wells were drilled in Colorado from 2005 to 2009. Water-based fluids normally are used in fracturing. But diesel fuel sometimes has been used instead in clay-based or other formations that absorb water.

Half of all the diesel-fluid use was in Texas, the investigation found. BJ Services accounted for 11.5 million gallons of the fluid nationwide, and Halliburton, 7.2 million gallons.

Gary Flaharty, spokesman for Baker Hughes, which recently acquired BJ Services, said the company no longer uses diesel fuel in fracturing.

He said the EPA didn’t regulate the fuel’s use in fracturing during the time in question. Halliburton said in a statement that the agency didn’t address the use of diesel fuel until last year, through a modification to its website, and the change is being challenged in court by two industry trade groups.

In a statement, the EPA said it is working to clarify permitting requirements for diesel-fuel use, which is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

DeGette and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, are among proponents of legislation that would require public disclosure of fracturing fluids’ contents and regulation of the practice under the act. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said this week there should be “complete industry compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and full meaningful public disclosure of all hydraulic fracturing fluids.”

Halliburton says it has been working to provide an extra margin of safety for the public and environment through measures such as development of a new fluid mixture sourced entirely from the food industry.


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