Gas Drilling Contaminated Texas Water Wells, EPA Says

Range Resources, a natural gas drilling company engaged in hydraulic fracturing, has been implicated in the contamination of two Texas drinking water wells, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The two homes where the contamination occurred are at risk of exploding, the agency said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Range Resources natural gas wells are located in Parker County, outside of Fort Worth, in the Barnett shale. The tainted water wells are located in the Trinity Aquifer, which underlies 20 Texas counties. The Barnett Shale field is the nation’s biggest natural gas producer, with tens of thousands of wells drilled. The Range gas wells were drilled using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure.

The property owners had apparently complained to federal regulators about flammable, bubbling water coming out of their taps, and the EPA ultimately determined that the water was contaminated with methane and the carcinogen benzene. Chemical fingerprinting pointed to Range as the source, the EPA said. The findings prompted the agency to issue an imminent and substantial endangerment order under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to DallasNews.com, the EPA has ordered Range Production Co. to take steps to protect the families and water supplies. Those steps include delivering potable water to the two families whose wells were poisoned, studying the soil around the residences, sampling all nearby drinking water to determine the extent of contamination in the aquifer and providing methane monitors to area residents.

The federal agency’s order came after the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates natural gas drilling in the state, failed to act. For its part, the Commission issued a news release late Tuesday saying it was still checking but had not concluded that Range’s wells were responsible. It characterized the EPA’s actions as “premature”, DallasNews.com said.

EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz told DallasNews.com that the agency is not alleging that fracking caused the contamination, only that Range’s gas wound up in the drinking water somehow. That could have occurred because casing or cementing of the gas wells failed, or the drilling may have hit a geological fault or an old gas well, he said.

The EPA has ordered Range to investigate the structural integrity of nearby natural-gas operations to determine if they are the source of the contamination, The Wall Street Journal said.

Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in that fracking fluid could contaminate water supplies near drilling sites, and already, such drilling is suspected in several instances of water contamination around the country.

Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the industry is not required to disclose the chemicals – some of which are known to be hazardous – that make up their fracking fluids.

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