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Illegal Fracking Practices Identified in W.Va., Pa.

Fracking, Fluid
Baker Hughes

An environmental watchdog non-profit just released a report identifying companies who are using diesel fuel in their horizontal drilling fluids. Apparently, that’s illegal without a special permit.

Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) is a non-profit that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws. They recently published a report entitled “Fracking Beyond the Law.” It asserts that at least 33 companies drilled 351 wells in 12 states using prohibited diesel fuels without required permits in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The report also notes that recently drilling companies have been modifying self-reported disclosures to remove any indication of diesel fuel use.


In 2005 Congress passed what has become known as the Halliburton Loophole, an energy policy act that exempted the oil and gas industry from requirements listed in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was named after then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s former oil and gas company that helped to pioneer horizontal gas drilling practices. With the passage of the Halliburton Loophole, one of the only chemical the Environmental Protection Agency was allowed to continue to regulate in the gas industry was diesel fuel.

Congress left diesel fuels to the EPA’s authority because they contain high levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene or xylene (BTEX), chemicals which are highly mobile in groundwater, and are known to cause significant health problems.

In a recent press conference discussing the report, senior managing attorney at EIP and a former enforcement attorney at EPA, Mary Greene, affirmed the significance of the report’s findings and the value of the law disallowing unpermitted diesel injection by siting a recent report out of Pennsylvania.

Changing Data

The EIP’s report was based solely on data that had been extrapolated from FracFocus.org, an online industry chemical disclosure registry. Greene explained, while different states have varying requirements, information about the chemicals used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells is currently self-reported by oil and gas well operators on this site.

She criticized FracFocus because it has no oversight or corroboration mechanisms, and also questioned the accuracy of the data because operators can edit, add, and remove disclosures from the site without leaving a record of or explanation for the change.

In fact, EIP noticed, over the course of their investigation, many diesel fuel disclosures disappearing.


West Virginia was included in the 12 states where industry operators reported using diesel fuel in their fracking practices. Data indicates that seven wells in Upshur County, a couple in Taylor, and one in Webster County as well as 22 sites across state lines in Greene County, Pennsylvania, reported using diesel.

A couple of the operators are small West Virginia companies: Triana and Mountain V.

Mountain V did not change their disclosure, nor respond to requests for comment.

Triana Response: "Contrary to a story that appeared in the publication Energy In Focus, where Triana Energy was identified as having used diesel fuel in its well completions, Triana Energy does not, and has never, used diesel fuel in any well completion fluids.   A clerical error was made in a posting to the web site, FracFocus.org when a vendor mistakenly identified diesel fuel as a component of a formulation used in a well completion.  The product referenced in that formulation had been discontinued by the vendor prior to the well having been drilled in 2008.   Before discovering the error, Triana Energy posted the information to the web site.  Once Triana discovered the mistake, the information was corrected and reposted to the FracFocus web site.   The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection was properly advised of this clerical error and formal filings were made correctly. " 

The most frequent operator to list using the fuel is Energy Corporation of America (ECA), headquartered in Colorado.  

ECA Response: “ECA has not used diesel products in our hydraulic fracturing fluids.  We have reviewed the EIP’s report and found that it was based on erroneous and outdated data concerning our operations.  The data the report references was actually downloaded from the Frac Focus database two years ago and it contains both outdated and inaccurate information about ECA.”         “In August 2012, we became aware of an incorrect Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that was provided by our vendor for Plexgel 907 LE.  This resulted in incorrect data being entered into Frac Focus.   As soon as we became aware of the error we contacted the vendor to obtain a correct MSDS for the ingredient and immediately corrected the entries in Frac Focus.  Therefore, the information this organization is citing is several years old, incorrect, and no longer valid.”         “The database currently and accurately reflects that we have not used diesel fuels in our hydraulic fracturing fluids.  If you go to FracFocus.org, you can see this for yourself.  Therefore, it is important to recognize that the company should not be included in the group’s report and the current Frac Focus database clearly supports this assertion.” 

Glynis Board hails from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and is based in Wheeling at the First State Capital Building. She’s been reporting full time for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2012. She covers a broad range of topics but focuses on producing and hosting the West Virginia Public Broadcasting's daily news show West Virginia Morning.

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