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Driller denies using diesel fuel in Utah fracking

Published August 14, 2014 12:17 pm

Environment • Analysis of indstry data shows drillers ignoring required permit for diesel in well fracking.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In February 2012, Bill Barrett Corp. fracked a gas well on the West Tavaputs Plateau, injecting 263,570 gallons of fluids into it under severe pressure.

Among the long list of chemicals the company initially disclosed using was diesel, a hydrocarbon no driller should inject underground without a permit because of its potential to contaminate underground drinking water sources.

The well in the Peter's Point gas field was one of 351 that an environmental watchdog says were illegally injected with diesel fuels over the past four years, based on an analysis of FracFocus, the oil and gas industry's self-reported database for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

"We urge [the Environmental Protection Agency] 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," said Mary Greene, managing attorney for Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA enforcement attorney.

"Companies that inject diesel without permits should be fined for ignoring the law," said Greene, who authored the report "Fracking Beyond the Law" released Wednesday.

Perhaps more troubling, Greene's research team discovered operators had altered their disclosures for particular wells, deleting references to diesel.

The entry for the Peter's Point well — the only Utah well in the report — is among those that have been changed. The database indicated it was fracked with 496 gallons of diesel.

But according to Bill Barrett officials, the FracFocus entry for the 7,000-foot well was in error regarding the use of diesel and it has been corrected in the past few days.

Other chemicals injected into that well include acetic acid, used as surfactant; diethylene glycol, used as a foaming agent; guar gum, used as a gelling agent; a biocide called tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride; methanol and phosphonate.

The fracking liquid was largely water and carbon dioxide, which delivered additives that helped fracture the well bore and release natural gas, according to Barrett spokesman Duane Zavadil.

"A small percentage of one additive used kerosene, not diesel," Zavadil.

But the word kerosene is sometimes used as a trade name for certain types of diesel.

"I find that disingenuous," Greene said. "The EPA considers kerosene to be diesel."

The well is now operated by EnerVest, following that firm's acquisition of Barrett's extensive West Tavaputs holdings.

After eliminating wells with FracFocus entries that were changed, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) documented 351 wells drilled by 33 companies in 12 states over the past four years where diesel was injected.

In 2005, Congress stripped the EPA of authority to regulate most chemicals used in fracking, but it drew the line at diesel, a substance that helps fractures in clay formations remain open, because it contains carcinogenic chemicals that are highly mobile in groundwater.

Drillers may still inject diesel fuels but they must obtain a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

EIP researchers found that none of the 33 companies that report using diesel sought such a permit.

The group planned to release its report June 19, identifying 497 wells that used diesel. But when Greene's team double-checked its findings, it discovered 146 of the FracFocus entries had been altered to eliminate all references to diesel.

"This a major problem," Greene said. "The fact that FracFocus allows operators to change data without leaving any trace of the change is wrong. These operators either used diesel or they didn't. They need to explain themselves and account for the change."

Industry officials noted FracFocus includes data on more than 77,000 wells. "We put in hundreds and there will be errors," Zavadil said.

bmaffly@sltrib.com