PARKER COUNTY — It started with a man in a Parker County mansion who noticed natural gas in his water well. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order against Range Resources in December.
Now, new testing shows there's methane in the well water at most homes within 3,000 feet of the Range Resources gas wells that the EPA is blaming for the original problem.
There's also methane in the nearby public water supply, Lake Country Acres.
Range, however, is adamant in stating that its production activities are not responsible for the natural gas migration into water wells.
The company says the gas sample analysis performed by the EPA did not differentiate between the kind of natural gas Range is drilling for about a mile below the earth and another natural gas formation just under the aquifer.
Range experts say their analysis found the methane in the water wells is actually coming from the more shallow formation. “The zones that contain the water are sitting right on top of the zones that contain the gas,” said petroleum engineer John McBeath.
Dissolved methane is harmless to ingest. Too much methane in the air, however, can pose an explosion risk.
“If there's no place for the gas to get out it can accumulate and concentrate, that's why it's very important for people to vent their wells,” McBeath said.
Here's what testing done by Range Resources and Lake Country Acres found, as compared to guidelines set by the United States Geological Survey:
- Water samples containing more than 28 milligrams per liter of dissolved methane are considered potentially explosive by the USGS. None of the samples in testing by the EPA, Range Resources, or Lake Country Acres is in this category.
- Water samples containing between 10 and 28 milligrams per liter of dissolved methane can, according to the USGS, indicate methane is increasing to dangerous levels. This category includes the mansion in the EPA's order, and two of the Lake Country Acres public supply water wells.
- The last category, consisting of a measurement of less than 10 milligrams per liter, includes samples from 21 water wells tested by Range, as well as the other two Lake Country Acres water wells. One of the two houses cited in the EPA order is also in this category, with a sample measurement of 0.62 milligrams per liter of dissolved methane. According to the USGS guidelines, no action in this category is needed other than monitoring to see if levels change.
Lake Country Acres water wells include aerators that strip natural gas from the water. As a result of the new testing, a system spokesperson said the aerators will be replaced with a newer, better version. Engineers are also working to design a device that will destroy the methane after the aerator removes it from the water.
Water wells in the area have been infiltrated by natural gas prior to Range’s drilling activities beginning in 2009. The company this week presented several examples from the past two decades to the Railroad Commission, including a water well drilled in 2005 not far from the wells listed in the EPA order.
The Environmental Protection Agency declined to comment on the latest testing by Range. An EPA statement said Range has not supplied the agency with all of the technical information required in its order and that the lack of information “prevents EPA from properly conducting an independent technical and [addressing] their conclusions.”