Study: Diesel used to frack in GarCo well
Most Colorado use of diesel and kerosene for hydraulic fracturing as documented in a new study was for one Garfield County well, the study’s data shows.
In addition, WPX Energy, the owner of 14 of the 16 wells where the study found such use in the state, says the use was mistakenly reported in the case of its wells and didn’t take place.
A report released Wednesday by the Environmental Integrity Project said it found that 351 wells in 12 states were fracked with diesel or kerosene from 2010 through this July by 33 companies without proper permits.
A total of nearly 33,000 gallons was used in fracking during that time, with the most, about 12,800, being used in Texas, the study found. Colorado ranked second, with 9,173 gallons used, followed by North Dakota, with nearly 4,800 gallons used.
According to a spreadsheet provided by the Environmental Integrity Project, all but about two gallons used in Colorado entailed use of diesel in a Halliburton frack fluid additive in just one well, fracked by PDC Energy west of Parachute in 2011. The well also accounted for all but about 3,000 gallons of all diesel/kerosene use by PDC in 12 wells altogether documented by the study.
PDC couldn’t be reached for comment after The Daily Sentinel received the spreadsheet Friday afternoon.
In 2013, the company sold its assets in Garfield County and elsewhere in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin to Caerus Oil and Gas, which is listed in state records as the owner of the well where diesel was used. Matthew Wurtzbacher, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said Friday he hadn’t been aware of the new study or its mention of the well. However, he said Caerus doesn’t use diesel or kerosene in fracking.
Two of the 16 Colorado wells identified in the report were fracked by WPX, and the spreadsheet showed 12 more as having been fracked by Williams. Williams eventually spun off its oil and gas exploration and production business into a separate company, WPX, which took ownership of Williams’ wells.
The new report found diesel use in 23 Williams wells altogether in Colorado and elsewhere.
WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said Friday her company did an in-depth analysis involving the 23 wells once owned by Williams and the two other WPX wells after the new report came out. She said the analysis found that a vendor who was contracted to put the contents of the frack jobs into a reporting registry mistakenly entered the wrong ingredient for a corrosion inhibitor used in frack fluid.
“There’s no diesel or kerosene in the actual corrosion inhibitor that we really used. It’s just that the vendor made a mistake,” Alvillar said.
While WPX operates primarily in Garfield County, all of the Colorado WPX and Williams wells included in the report are in La Plata County.
Another La Plata County well in the report belongs to XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. XTO also has numerous wells in Rio Blanco County.
The Environmental Integrity Project identifies itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in 2002 by former Environmental Protection Agency enforcement attorneys “to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.”
It bases its findings on data the industry submitted to FracFocus, which is a fracking chemical disclosure registry, and on EPA public records.
EPA’s only authority over hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act comes when diesel fuels are used. The study says such fuels contain high levels of benzene, toluene and other chemicals “that are highly mobile in groundwater and that are known to cause cancer or other significant health effects.”
It says its report probably underestimated diesel/kerosene use for reasons such as the ability of industry to assert trade secret claims to avoid disclosing use.
It also said it found no evidence that the operators of the 351 wells applied for or received Safe Drinking Water Act permits as required by the EPA.
DIESEL AND KEROSENE
The EPA said in a statement that it is reviewing the new report. It also noted that it released a memo and guidance to the industry in February as part of its efforts “to provide clarity on the permitting requirements applicable to the use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing.”
“During the development of these documents, EPA actively engaged with companies that used diesel in their operations to inform them that they would be required to obtain a permit if they continued to use diesel in their operations. Many of those companies indicated that they planned to discontinue the use of diesel in their operations.
EPA believes that since the release of (its memo and guidance) many companies have followed through on those plans and no longer use diesel in their hydrofracking operations.”
The pro-industry group Energy In Depth said that more than 280 of the 351 wells identified in the study used kerosene rather than diesel, and EPA didn’t consider kerosene a diesel fuel until the guidance issued in February.
“In other words, (the Environmental Integrity Project) is retroactively changing the definition of diesel fuel in order to malign more operations for engaging in an activity (a ‘diesel frac’) that did not occur,” Katie Brown of Energy in Depth wrote on the group’s website.
“That is a bogus argument they’re making. It’s ridiculous,” responded Tom Pelton, a spokesman for the Environmental Integrity Project.
He said kerosene is a kind of diesel fuel, and for years industry and regulators have defined it that way.
“They themselves call kerosene diesel, (and) diesel, kerosene. Kerosene’s a type of diesel,” Pelton said.
Some Piceance Basin operators were mentioned in the study for diesel-kerosene use in other states. Among them, Bill Barrett Corp. reportedly used nearly 500 gallons in a Utah well; Occidental Oil and Gas, about 740 gallons in a New Mexico well; and Marathon Oil, about 171 total gallons in two wells in Wyoming.
Energy in Depth’s Brown wrote that it’s important to put the volumes listed in the study in context.
“Most of the reports show very minor volumes of kerosene (or diesel or other hydrocarbons identified by EIP), which are often used in certain corrosion inhibitors. EPA’s original concern with diesel fuel dealt with the use of the fuel as a carrier fluid (i.e. to dissolve the additives associated with fracturing), rather than its use as a de minimis component within the additives,” Brown wrote.
She wrote that the average concentration in all the wells identified in the study is a fraction of a percent.
The study reported that diesel constituted less than 2 percent of the total volume of liquid used to frack PDC’s Garfield well.
Where diesel or kerosene has been used, it has been in an attempt to help bring to the surface oil and gas products that also contain chemicals like benzene. Pelton said the study’s concern surrounds not what comes up from wells, but the potential for releasing benzene and other substances into aquifers when diesel is injected through them and into oil and gas formations. He noted that even small concentrations of benzene are considered a health risk.