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Tests show Texas well water polluted by fracking, despite EPA assurances

Tests show Texas well water polluted by fracking, despite EPA assurances


Environmentalists and residents of Parker County, Texas, were dismayed last year when the EPA dropped an investigation into complaints that fracking by Range Resources was contaminating local water supplies with methane.

As part of a legal settlement that got the EPA off its back, the company agreed to test well water in the city of Weatherford, where the complaints were centered. Sure enough, Range’s test results found minimal levels of methane in the water.

“According to the EPA, the sampling that Range Resources has completed indicates no widespread methane contamination of concern in the wells that were sampled in Parker County,” the agency’s inspector general wrote last month in a report requested by lawmakers.

But here comes the report’s kicker: “However, the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination.” In the report, the inspector general called on the EPA to evaluate the testing results being provided by Range Resources and to work with the state to “ensure appropriate action is taken” to address any methane and benzene pollution.

And now, less than a month after the inspector general’s report was published, Bloomberg has a disturbing new update:

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.

Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case.

The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy.

The U.S. Geological Survey says water containing more than 10 milligrams per liter of methane is unsafe. Again from Bloomberg:

Range’s consultants found 4.2 milligrams per liter of methane in [one resident’s] water in a test taken in mid 2012, and 20 milligrams in November 2012. Duke’s tests a month later found a value of 54.7.

The newly disclosed findings have the Natural Resources Defense Council calling, again, on the EPA to properly investigate the contamination of water supplies and protect water from frackers. From a blog post by the NRDC’s Amy Mall:

EPA should reopen its investigation and follow up on all of the IG’s recommendations without haste. Unfortunately, this case in Texas is part of a larger, troubling trend we’re seeing at EPA; the agency also dropped high-profile fracking investigations in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania. EPA needs to re-open these cases also.

Obama is a fan of fracking, because it’s helping the country meet more of its own energy needs. But at what cost? The EPA should at least be trying to find out.

Duke Fracking Tests Reveal Dangers Driller’s Data Missed, Bloomberg
Response to Congressional Inquiry Regarding the EPA’s Emergency Order to the Range Resources Gas Drilling Company, U.S. EPA Office of Inspector General
New data point to drinking water contamination near natural gas operations in Texas, NRDC

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Tests show Texas well water polluted by fracking, despite EPA assurances

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How one fracking company bullies residents and elected officials alike

How one fracking company bullies residents and elected officials alike



When the EPA last year dropped its inquiry into methane seepage from wells fracked by Range Resources, it seemed like an unusual move. Texan Steve Lipsky’s water supply was bubbling over with the explosive gas, after all, which seemed like the sort of thing an agency built around protecting the environment should look into. But Range Resources threatened to pull out of a key fracking study, and the EPA backed off.

Because, according to a report from Bloomberg, that’s the game the frackers at Range Resources play: bullying, threatening, intimidating.

Critics say the Fort Worth-based company, which pioneered the use of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, has taken a hard line with residents, local officials and activists. In one case it threatened a former EPA official with legal action; in another it stopped participating in town hearings to review its own applications to drill, because local officials were asking too many questions and taking too long.

“Range Resources is different from its peers in that it chooses to severely punish its critics,” said Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, Texas, and an activist who has been subpoenaed and issued legal warnings by Range. “Most companies avoid the perception of the big-bad-bully oil company, while Range Resources embraces it.”

The Bloomberg article outlines some of that bullying. A lawmaker who criticized Range had emails leaked to the local paper. And Steve Lipsky, he with the methane water, was sued.

[Range] argued in local court that Lipsky conspired to defame the company by getting his air and water tested by Alisa Rich, president of Wolf Eagle Environmental consultants, and taking that complaint to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to the media.

“The object of the conspiracy was to make false and damaging accusations that Range’s operations had contaminated Lipsky’s water well,” the company said in its suit, filed in July 2011.

While the case is still being fought in court, Lipsky stands by his charge of Range’s culpability: “It’s ludicrous,” he said, referring to the case. “They’re ruthless.”

As Bloomberg notes, there’s a potential downside to alienating citizens and politicians for a company that relies on permitting and leasing land. Tangling with the EPA, however, seems to carry very little cost at all. At least to Range Resources.


Texas fracker accused of bully tactics against foes, Bloomberg

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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How one fracking company bullies residents and elected officials alike

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