Texas Fracking Lawsuits Allege Water Contamination in the Barnett Shale

Two Texas lawsuits claim that hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale has resulted in water contamination. One suit, filed on behalf of a Tarrant County resident, names Chesapeake Energy and Encana Oil & Gas as defendants. The second Texas fracking lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Denton County couple, names Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, the largest gas producer in the Barnett Shale, as a defendant.

The Barnett Shale field is the nation’s biggest natural gas producer, with tens of thousands of wells drilled. Much of the natural gas drilling occurring there is done via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure.

According to the Star-Telegram, the plaintiff who filed suit against Chesapeake Energy and Encana Oil & Gas claims that fracking of gas wells contaminated the groundwater that supplies her water well. As a result, she says she can no longer use water from her well “for consumption, bathing or swashing clothes” because of its odor and testing results that showed it was contaminated with chemicals.

The Denton County fracking lawsuit alleges that “soon after” Devon “commenced drilling and fracking operations” their well water became “polluted with a gray sediment,” leaving it unfit for drinking, bathing or washing clothes, the Star-Telegram said. The plaintiffs also claim that the “same gray contaminated substance continues to be found” in water from a second well that was drilled after the first was allegedly ruined.

Both lawsuits are pending before US District Judge Sam Lindsay of Dallas, the Star-Telegram said.

A statement issued by the attorney representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits also contends that water contamination in the Barnett Shale is widespread. “The full scope of groundwater contamination in the Barnett Shale will not be known for some time; however it appears to be extensive,” the statement said.

“We believe that hundreds and more likely thousands of property owners have already had the water beneath their surface essentially ruined as a result of nearby drilling and fracking [hydraulic fracturing] in the Barnett Shale,” the statement continued. “This is why these damage lawsuits are being filed.”

The two Texas fracking lawsuits come on the heels of allegations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that two residential water wells in Parker County were contaminated as a result of natural gas drilling undertaken by Range Resources, another firm engaged in Barnett Shale fracking. As we previously reported, 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, and Range was ordered to take steps to protect the families and the water supplies. 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.

Range Resources denies that its drilling has played any part in the Parker County water contamination.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, has set a January 10 hearing on the Parker County issues.

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