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2011-01-06

'Fracking' mess in Parker County, sez EPA

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: For an interesting article on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," visit:

www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/06/fracking-in-pennsylvania-201006
)
On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered a natural gas company in Forth Worth to take immediate action to protect homeowners living near one of its drilling operations. Homeowners have complained about flammable and bubbling drinking water coming out of their tap.
EPA testing has confirmed that extremely high levels of methane in the water pose an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire. EPA has also found other contaminants including benzene, which can cause cancer, in the residents' drinking water.
EPA has determined that natural gas drilling near the homes by Range Resources in Parker County has caused or contributed to the contamination of at least two residential drinking water wells. In response, the 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 authorities have issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Parker County is located west of Fort Worth.
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 to the company, but the 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 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.
EPA has asked the company to conduct a full scale investigation. Under this order, the EPA is requiring Range Resources :
• Immediately deliver potable water to the two residences;
• Immediately sample soil gas around the residences;
• Immediately sample all nearby drinking water wells to determine the extent of aquifer contamination;
• Provide methane gas monitors to alert homeowners of dangerous conditions in their houses;
• Develop a plan to remediate areas of the aquifer that have been contaminated; and
• To investigate the structural integrity of its nearby natural gas well to determine if it is the source of contamination.
EPA has data showing the presence of natural gas at two wells. EPA has ordered Range Resources to investigate other nearby properties to determine if their drinking water is at risk. Additionally, EPA has contacted a rural water system operator located approximately a mile from the contaminated wells. That operator is currently taking steps to test its water for natural gas constituents. Residents of other homes are advised to contact EPA immediately if their wells seize up or if their water begins to effervesce. EPA will contact nearby private well homeowners to advise them of the agency's actions and to let them know that that the company has been required to test their wells.
The uncontrolled release of natural gas can be dangerous since it is odorless and flammable and it escapes facilities. Uncontrolled release of natural gas inside a building or home can cause a fire or explosion. Drinking water contaminated with natural gas impurities such as benzene is unhealthy.
EPA believes that natural gas plays a key role in our nation's clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource. However, the agency is determined to ensure that natural gas development is safe. As announced earlier this year, the EPA is conducting a comprehensive study on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.
In the meantime, EPA has made energy extraction sector compliance with environmental laws one of EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 to 2013. The initiative focuses on areas of the country where energy extraction activities such as hydraulic fracturing are concentrated, and EPA's enforcement activities will vary with the type of activity and pollution problem presented.

To read a copy of order to the company, visit:

http://www.epa.gov/region6

To learn more about EPA's National

Enforcement Initiatives, visit:

http://epa.gov/compliance/data/planning/initiatives/initiatives.html

To learn more about EPA hydraulic fracturing study, visit:

http://www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing