Driller denies using diesel fuel in Utah fracking
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.