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New fracking rules are moot in oil patch

New federal rules for using diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing, long feared to cause a disruptive moratorium on new oil drilling in the Bakken, will have far less effect on the industry than originally thought.

In fact, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said new rules that were released last week are almost meaningless in the oil patch, since oil drillers quit using diesel in their chemical frack mix, knowing change was on the way.

It took the federal Environmental Protection Agency more than two years to develop the diesel guidance, which will now require a special underground injection permit for frack jobs that use diesel grades one through four and kerosene.

Helms had feared there would be a lengthy drilling moratorium while the state took a time-out to write the permit rules for its own program and put them into implementation.

That time-out from drilling won’t be necessary, he said. The agency had been developing a backlog of well permits to keep up the pace of drilling just in case.

“To the best of our knowledge, none of these five (diesel) chemicals are being used in North Dakota,” Helms said.

Helms said his staff reviewed the FracFocus chemical registry for all wells drilled in North Dakota since April 2012. Only Oasis Petroleum had used any diesel (kerosene in 15 instances) and has since eliminated that product, Helms said.

Helms said the EPA’s rules are disappointing because they don’t allow operators to use minimal amounts of less than 1 percent diesel, which acts as a lubricant in the frack fluid mix.

The EPA did not include petroleum distillate and similar compounds in chemicals that will require a special injection permit.

Should oil companies use diesel in fracking, the process to get a state underground injection permit will take an additional 80 days to process because of public notice and other requirements.

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