The Latest: New EPA rules for diesel in fracking

  • This February, the EPA finally defined five categories of diesel, and drillers will now need a permit to use them in hydrofracking wells.


Hydraulic fracturing – the injection of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract oil and natural gas – has sparked fears of groundwater contamination in rural communities like Pavillion, Wyo. ("Hydrofracked: One man's quest for answers about natural gas drilling," HCN, 6/27/11). Diesel is one of the more controversial ingredients used in some fracking fluids because it contains known carcinogens. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has had the power to regulate diesel in fracking fluid since 2005, it hadn't done so, unable to settle on exactly what "diesel" meant.

In 2011, a congressional investigation found that 14 companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel in fracking since 2005, though most said they'd phased it out. This February, the EPA finally defined five categories of diesel, and drillers will now need a permit to use them. But critics say the guidelines won't have much input, since only a tiny fraction of frackers still use diesel, and the guidelines lack the power to prohibit its use.

Nick Privett
Nick Privett
Mar 03, 2014 06:49 AM
Our federal dollars at work. Diesel is no longer used as a frac fluid. Irregardless of the waste of our time, money & regulatory might, can someone tell me why putting diesel in a hydrocarbon bearing formation is any worse than the hydrocarbon that is already there?
Peter Prince
Peter Prince Subscriber
Mar 04, 2014 08:34 PM
The concern over what is injected into the well during a fracturing operation is related to the ability to seal the bore hole. Although the industry has many decades of experience sealing bore holes for previously typical drill and recover operations the stress placed on the seals during hydraulic fracturing is significantly higher and the confidence in the design is lower. At a minimum cement seals are added to the bottom and top sections of the bore, and other sections if warranted, but it is expensive. Some of the bore hole is not lined with pipe and the substrate is relied on to provide the seal. Will the substrate resist the pressure of the operation and keep the fracking fluids away from water sources? Who knows! What is undeniable is that every bore hole is different and the entire bore is out of sight. The condition of the entire infrastructure is an assumed condition based on indirect indications of the ability of the seals to perform. You don't know if the seals work until after the operation is attempted, maybe not until a water well shows signs of contamination. Then what? How do you do to clean up a spill that can't be seen? And if the test results are not as expected you don't know what part of the bore is causing the problems but you do know that the company has spent a lot of money to get this far. Its a guessing game that was acceptable when the number of bore holes was smaller and the stress lower but now that there are drill sites are of much higher densities and the stress level is significantly higher the number of failures becomes significant.
I do agree that trying to regulate the activity is probably futile e.g. what is diesel, as the government must follow a lengthy due process while industry can do what is expedient. I think a better tact is to require industry to characterize the water supply before they begin their operations. Any deviations from baseline becomes theirs to clean up!
Evan Ravitz
Evan Ravitz
Mar 05, 2014 12:53 AM
These aren't just any carcinogins. Diesel contains the TWO MOST CARCINOGENIC chemicals known to man. The worst is 3-nitrobenzanthrone. This Wikipedia article says it all: Here's a question for an inquiring reporter: does BIOdiesel exhaust have these terrible poisons?
Don Rogers
Don Rogers Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 03:46 PM
Peter has hit on the major insanity of this process, a process that never happens in the back yards of the rich. (Google CEO Exxon) But there is more...thousands of abandoned bores, for many of which we don't even know their location, and many of those having the poisonous fracking fluid pumped back into them to haunt us forever. What a nightmare.