A Big ‘Fracking’ Deal

EPA finds 'extremely high levels' of methane in Parker County water wells
by Published on

Updated below with map

For years, natural gas producers in Texas and elsewhere have insisted that the controversial practice of “fracking” has never caused contamination of groundwater. But an emergency order from the EPA this afternoon may change all that.

The regional EPA is now saying that gas wells operated by Ranger Resources in Parker County have contaminated at least two nearby residential drinking water wells with “extremely high levels of methane” and cancer-causing benzene. The agency is ordering Ranger to immediately provide drinking water to the residences and conduct a full-scale investigation.

Here’s the EPA press release in part:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered a natural gas company in Forth Worth Texas to take immediate action to protect homeowners living near one of their drilling operations who have complained about flammable and bubbling drinking water coming out of their tap. EPA testing has confirmed that extremely high levels of methane in their water pose an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire. EPA has also found other contaminants including benzene, which can cause cancer, in their drinking water.

EPA has determined that natural gas drilling near the homes by Range Resources in Parker County, Texas has caused or contributed to the contamination of at least two residential drinking water wells. Therefore, today, EPA has ordered the company to step in immediately to stop the contamination, provide drinking water and provide methane gas monitors to the homeowners. EPA has issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Parker County is located west of Fort Worth, Texas.

In late August, EPA received a citizen’s complaint regarding concerns with a private drinking water well. During the inspector’s follow-up inquiry, EPA learned that the homeowner had previously complained to the Texas Railroad Commission as well as the company, but their concerns were not adequately addressed by the State or the company.  EPA then conducted an on-site inspection of the private drinking water well with the homeowner and a neighboring residence, and returned to collect both water and gas samples.  These samples were sent to an EPA certified laboratory for analysis.  The data was received in late November 2010 and was carefully reviewed by EPA scientists.  The EPA scientists have conducted isotopic fingerprint analysis and concluded the source of the drinking water well contamination to closely match that from Range Resources’ natural gas production well.

This has the potential to change the debate around fracking in Texas and beyond. Notice also that EPA slams state regulators for ignoring the citizen complaints.

Update

Based on EPA and Railroad Commission records, this appears to be the location of the two wells implicated in the benzene and methane contamination. Ignore the route between the two wells… unless you plan on taking a tour.


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Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.