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Well Water Contamination by Gas Drilling

by Dick Guldi, Marc McCord, Mary Warren, Teressa Patterson

Steve and Shyla Lipsky thought they had discovered their perfect Eden when they built their dream home on a beautiful bay in Parker County.  They even had plenty of clean water from their well bored into the Trinity Aquifer.  Wells in the area had been successfully producing clean water for up to 15 years.  In late 2010 Range Resources tested at least 29 wells and claimed they were clean.  But shortly after Range Resources drilled the Butler gas wellhead, area residents began having serious problems with their wells.

Lipsky’s well stopped pumping, and when the drilling company Pax Water Well Service came to check it, they discovered so much volatile gas they were able to light the water well on fire. Videos of this are abundant on YouTube. The Pax representative told Lipsky that there was so much methane around the wellhead and going into the house, that the house was no longer safe to inhabit.  Lipsky was told to take it to the Railroad Commission, who oversees drilling operations in the state. Nothing happened.

The EPA got involved when the Railroad Commission took no action. The contamination was so bad that the EPA declared emergency. They determined there was a substantial risk of an explosion hazard.   The EPA backed off their state of emergency when:

  1. EPA wanted to reduce costs and legal risks associated with the ongoing court cases.
  2. The immediate risk had been reduced when residents switched to outside water and were no longer piping well water into their homes.
  3. Range agreed to work with EPA on an in-depth study (Range never participated in that study.) Range also agreed to sample 20 water wells in Parker County every three months for a year if the EPA withdrew the order. (Wells have never been sampled by Range.)

The EPA requested that total methane be tested for the entire area, including Silverado on the Brazos and Lake Country Communities. That testing was never done.

The Trinity Aquifer lies approximately 100 to 300 ft below ground level.  At least twenty water wells, including Lipsky’s at 120-180 ft, are bringing up contaminated water from the aquifer.

The Railroad Commission claims gas drilling operations have never polluted a well or an Aquifer.  Both the Railroad Commission and Range claim that the methane is naturally occurring, but the extremely high levels of methane (up to 90%), the presence of other contaminants 3-5 times higher near drill sites than farther away, and the fact that the isotopes in the contaminated water match those in the gas drill water proved that the high level of methane from Lipsky's well was not from natural sources.

Range Resources’ own documents acknowledged to the Texas Railroad Commission that there were problems with the Butler site gas well.  They proposed repairs, but the repairs were never made. Then, for reasons unknown, Range Resources sent the Commission a letter stating that “...After further review” Range Resources decided not to implement any of the proposed repairs.  Despite this lack of action, the Railroad Commission took no action.

The Railroad Commission tested Lipsky’s well and claimed that there were very low levels of methane present in Lipsky’s well. Independent testers from Duke using the same equipment measured levels as much as 10 times higher than those claimed by the Commission. When a representative of the Railroad Commission, who was present when the Duke testing took place, was asked why the high levels of pollutants were not included in the official report, she admitted that "we know there’s gas in your well … and we all know you have a problem.” (recording available)  But she would not say why she reported that flammable gas numbers from the wellhead were below 1% when tests showed values as high as 88%.

Five families in the Silverado area now report water that burns, as do scores of families in the Lake Country Community.   But Range has said (doc) that the water is safe to drink, even though it contains obvious gas bubbles, smells bad, tastes bad, and ignites. Periodically people still using the water are issued warnings to avoid washing clothes—but Range insists it is safe to drink.

Lake Granbury is currently at its lowest level in history, even lower than after previous droughts.  Yet in 2009, one fracking company received a permit to remove 9 billion gallons of water from the lake, and several companies are taking water continually.

Documents and references are available from Steve Lipsky

Link and link to news about the EPA shutting down Weatherford, TX shale gas water contamination study.

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