The Texas Railroad Commission continues to dispute the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) contention that natural gas drilling being performed by Range Resources Corp. is behind the contamination of water wells in Parker County. According to the Commission, the contamination – which has resulted in flammable well water – is the result of gas migration from a shallow aquifer. The Range gas wells were drilled using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure.
As we reported last year, some Parker County property owners had complained to federal regulators about flammable, bubbling water coming out of their taps, and the EPA found that the water was contaminated with methane and the carcinogen benzene. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the agency maintained that the gas contaminating the water wells was identical to gas found a mile below where Range Resources Corp. was cracking open shale rocks. The EPA did note, however, that it was not alleging that fracking caused the contamination, only that Rangeâ€™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.
The EPA has ordered the gas wells shut down to prevent two houses from exploding. Range has continued to operate the wells, and is fighting the EPA in federal court.
The Texas Railroad Commission has disputed the EPA’s findings from the start. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, the Commission says its tests found the gas contaminating the water wells had a different “geochemical fingerprint” than the gas being extracted by Range, and it claims the EPA’s testing was incomplete. The Commission voted 3-0 to absolve Range of any wrongdoing, and it wants the federal agency to rescind its order that the gas wells be shut.
But the EPA isn’t budging. In a written statement, the agency said it stands by its original findings, and will not comply with the Commission’s request to rescind its order. According to the Journal, the agency contends that the state’s finding “is not supported by EPA’s independent, scientific investigation.”
The Wall Street Journal article points out that Texas has long been friendly towards the natural gas drilling industry:
“Texas has long looked favorably on natural-gas development and believes its oversight of the industry sets the standard. Gas production has significantly increased in recent years and the state collected $725.5 million in production taxes in its most recent fiscal year. The legislature has been actively looking for new ways to promote gas usage. . .”
When the EPA issued its findings on the water well contamination in Parker County, it criticized Texas regulators for failing to protect the public, the Journal said.