DeGette to EPA: Companies used 500,000 gallons more diesel fuel in fracking than first reported

Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, sent updated numbers to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday showing the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluid is more widespread than first discovered in an earlier investigation.

A letter (pdf) sent to Jackson by DeGette and Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Ed Markey states:

A natural gas rig at the entrance to Battlement Mesa in Garfield County on Colorado's Western Slope (David O. Williams photo).
“Two companies — Frac Tech and Weatherford — have informed the Committee that they inadvertently provided inaccurate data in response to the Committee’s request for information on the type and volume of products used in hydraulic fracturing between 2005 and 2009. As a result of these errors, our original analysis on the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing underestimated the true extent of use by more than 500,000 gallons.

“The companies’ errors … demonstrate the difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids and reinforce the need for mandatory and uniform national disclosure of this information to EPA.”

The committee report in January revealed oil and gas service companies, including industry leader Halliburton, injected more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in 19 states between 2005 and 2009, including more than 1.3 million gallons in Colorado.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the oil and gas drilling process of injecting mostly water and sand – with smaller amounts of undisclosed chemicals – deep into oil and gas wells to fracture tight rock and sand formations and free up more hydrocarbons.

The fracking process was exempted from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. DeGette and other members of Congress say diesel fuel, which is made up of some cancer-causing carcinogenic compounds, was never included in that 2005 exemption. In August they followed by asking the EPA to better define diesel fuel.

Oil and gas industry representatives, including the head of the state lobbying group Colorado Oil and Gas Association, agreed that diesel fuel was not part of the exemption but pointed out that the EPA never held an official rulemaking on the use of diesel fuel in fracking.

DeGette and other leading Democrats now want the EPA, which just announced it will regulate some aspects of fracking waste water disposal, to engage in a rulemaking process on diesel fuel.

DeGette and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis are two of the lead sponsors of a bill that would require full public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. Most oil and gas companies oppose such a move for proprietary reasons, arguing that fracking occurs far below groundwater supplies and has never been shown to contaminate drinking water. That contention is disputed.