Public Radio from UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Report Claims Arkansas Natural Gas Wells Illegally Fracking With Diesel Fuel

A Natural Gas Well
Daniel Foster

A new report claims Arkansas has 168 fracking sites, primarily in the north-central part of the state, that have illegally injected diesel fuel into the ground as a part of natural gas drilling operations.

The Environmental Integrity Project study released Wednesday lists nearly all of the wells as operating under Southwestern Energy subsidiary SEECO, the Southern Electrical Equipment Company. EIP’s head researcher and former EPA enforcement attorney Mary Greene said subterranean diesel fuel waste is not just an environmental and geological concern it’s about human health.

“This if first and foremost a public health issue. Injecting diesel to frack wells threatens drinking water supplies and human health. We have known this for a very long time. It’s highly mobile in groundwater, it’s carcinogenic and neurotoxic even in small doses,” said Greene.

Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne, and Faulkner counties have the vast majority of the 168 sites listed in the report.

Operators have been explicitly forbidden from injecting diesel fuel without a Safe Drinking Water permit since a 2014 EPA rule came into effect. Researcher Mary Greene says none of the operators have obtained the permit and have retroactively removed self-disclosure listings of diesel.

“We contacted all of the states authorized to implement the Safe Drinking Water Act program as well as the EPA and confirmed that none of these operators applied for or received the required Safe Drinking Water Act permits to frack these wells,” said Greene.

Southwestern Energy responded in a statement to allegations of operating without proper permits.

"They are referring to an Underground Injection Permit which are primarily used to permit disposal/injection wells. Yes – we have obtained UIC permits for injection wells but not for wells to be hydraulically fracture stimulated."

Southwestern Energy's Commincations Director Susan Richardson answered Greene's claim of removing references to diesel in disclosure reports by writing, "Not to my knowledge."

Southwestern Energy responded about their use of diesel.

"In early EPA guidance, diesel was not defined. In mid-2012, EPA provided a definition of diesel that included kerosene. In February 2014, EPA released its guidance document on diesel use, which included the definition of diesel. Southwestern Energy stopped the use of chemical additives, which were defined as diesel based on the EPA definition in 2012."

The statement described the period of use.

"A service company working on behalf of Southwestern used a corrosion inhibitor in wells from 2010 through August 2012 which contained kerosene as one of the ingredients. Kerosene was subsequently defined by EPA as diesel in mid-2012, after which the use of that corrosion inhibitor was discontinued."

Greeen characterized the operator as side-stepping definitions of diesel early in the EPA rule's history and continuing to use materials with high percentages of diesel. 

EIP advocates for an increased regulatory presence that would require greater disclosure of the materials being injected into the ground and high pressure in a drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. EIP's goals listed in the report:

The “Fracking Beyond the Law” report concludes that: 1) diesel use in fracking should be eliminated or at least properly permitted; 2) FracFocus needs to be improved to increase transparency and accountability; 3) companies that supply fracking products containing diesel should be required to label their products and notify operators of the need to obtain Safe Drinking Water Act permits; 4) drilling companies should fully disclose the contents of all fracking fluids, including the ingredients in trade secret products and the chemical composition of base fluid; and 5) states should list diesel-based fracking products that require a permit.

Southwester Energy further stated they do no opposed the EPAs goals for diesel safety.

Southwestern Energy is committed to producing natural gas in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. At Southwestern Energy, we work closely with local, state and federal agencies to ensure our operations comply with all regulations. We understand these regulations are important because they protect the communities in which we work and live.

Jacob Kauffman is a former news anchor and reporter for KUAR.
Related Content