Democrats Allege Halliburton and Others are Using Diesel Fuel in Hydraulic Fracturing, Asks EPA to “Do Something”

Henry WaxmanPrepare for the deafening noise now being generated by the mainstream press echo-chamber against the decades-old method of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing. The latest attack comes courtesy of three Congressional Democrats. Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Edward J. Markey, and Diana DeGette sent a letter today to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson regarding the results of an investigation into the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids.

News outlets around the U.S., as well as international news organizations have picked up this story and are now blasting it out. The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters and many others have issued stories essentially regurgitating the talking points of the letter distributed by the Democrats.

Here is a summary of the points made by Henry Waxman and the other signatories of the letter:

  • Waxman, as Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy & Commerce, and the other two Democrats, conducted a yearlong review of the chemicals being used in hydraulic fracturing operations by some of the country’s largest energy services companies. The committee requested a list of the chemicals used and the quantities in which they were used across all of their hydraulic fracturing operations for the period of 2005-2009.
  • Waxman’s staff analyzed the list of chemicals and found that diesel fuel is among the chemicals used in some instances. The staffers then calculated the amount of diesel fuel used according to the reports filed by the energy companies (although there is no explanation for how those calculations were made).
  • According to the EPA, any company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive a permit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Waxman’s committee checked with state and federal regulators and found that no permits were issued in the 19 states where the energy companies injected diesel fuel into the ground as part of hydraulic fracturing for the period 2005-2009.
  • Therefore, Waxman, et al contend to EPA Administrator Jackson that these companies are in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, that that the EPA should do something about it.

Below is a list of the companies and quantities of diesel fuel (in gallons) those companies are supposed to have injected into the ground as part of their hydraulic fracturing operations from 2005 to 2009.

Company – Volume (gallons)

  • Basic Energy Services – 204,013
  • BJ Services – 11,555,538
  • Complete – 4,625
  • Frac Tech – 159,371
  • Halliburton – 7,207,216
  • Key Energy Services – 1,641,213
  • RPC – 4,314,110
  • Sanjel – 3,641,270
  • Schlumberger – 443,689
  • Superior – 833,431
  • Trican – 92,537
  • Weatherford – 2,105,062

Total Quantity – 32,202,075 gallons

What’s the takeaway from this? First, the story just broke today and has a “gotcha” feeling to it. MDN expects there will be a response by the companies listed. They simply have not yet had time to put out a response to the allegations by Waxman, et al. Second, this is a naked political play. Waxman and the others want the EPA to assume powers to regulate what they currently do not have the right to regulate by shifting oversight for mining and drilling to the EPA, using this as an excuse to do it. Third, let’s put it in perspective. If these numbers are correct (not a given!), and if that much diesel fuel was used, how many wells were drilled using it over that five year period of time? Tens of thousands of wells, no doubt. The amount used at any given location was likely very, very small. Don’t forget that 99.5% of what goes down the hole in hydraulic fracturing is sand and water, and only 0.5% (one-half of one percent) is chemicals.

MDN will track this story as it develops and issue new posts when more details become available.

Read the full text of the letter from Reps. Waxman, Markey and DeGette here: Waxman, Markey, and DeGette Investigation Finds Continued Use of Diesel in Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids.