Range Resources Claims Fracking Didn’t Contaminate Texas Water Wells

Range Resources is disputing allegations made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its hydraulic fracturing activities in Texas somehow caused the contamination of two water wells. Range claims its own investigation found that its natural gas drilling activities have had no impact on the water aquifer in Parker County or the subject water wells.

As we reported previously, the contamination occurred 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 agency also warned that the contamination could lead to a fire or explosion.

The findings prompted the EPA to issue an imminent and substantial endangerment order under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA did note, however, that it was 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, the agency said.

The EPA ordered Range 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. Range was ordered to investigate the structural integrity of nearby natural-gas operations to determine if they are the source of the contamination.

But according to a report in the Star-Telegram, Range is disputing the EPA’s findings, and asserts the methane in water existed long before it started drilling activities, and “likely is naturally occurring migration from several shallow zones immediately below the water aquifer,” The company said it operates two producing natural gas wells that “are completed in the Barnett Shale formation, which is over a mile below the water zone.”

According to the Star-Telegram, one of the contamination complaints came from Steven Lipsky, who lives in a high-end subdivision about 15 miles southwest of Weatherford. The EPA’s emergency administrative order showed that Lipsky’s water well was drilled in April 2005 and that the first sign of problems was in December 2009, four months after the Range gas wells began producing gas, the Star-Telegram said.

Meanwhile, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state oil and gas industry, announced it has scheduled a January 10 hearing on the issue, according to the Star-Telegram. As we reported previously, EPA issued its order on the matter after the Texas Railroad Commission failed to act. For its part, the commission has characterized the EPA’s actions as “premature”.

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