DISH, Texas — Early results from a Texas Railroad Commission study show unusually high levels of poisonous chemicals in the groundwater near a natural gas drilling well, according to town leaders in DISH, a tiny community southwest of Denton.
The sample tested the water of a home in the town and found high levels of arsenic and lead.
DISH Mayor Calvin Tillman says it’s more evidence the natural gas wells that dot his town are polluting the water. “It’s very likely our water issues can be directly attributed to the oil and gas drilling,” he said.
The town has been called the Grand Central Station of the Barnett Shale. Nearly a dozen major pipelines converge here, and more than 50 wells sit in or around this town of only 180 people.
One of those drilling wells is just behind the Smiths’ backyard. The family, like many in this rural area, relies on a well on their property for drinking water.
For years, it delivered crystal clear water to their home. However, almost immediately after Devon Energy began drilling feet from their yard last year, their tap water turned a milky gray.
“You're used to your water being crystal clear, and then one day — out of the blue — it's no longer like that,” Damon Smith said. “So you're scratching your head, trying to figure out the source. The only thing we could conclude is it’s got to be the gas wells.”
The Texas Railroad Commission investigated, as did as a firm hired by the town. Both agencies tested samples of the Smiths' water.
Early results from the TRC study showed arsenic levels more than seven times the acceptable level for drinking water. Lead levels were nearly 21 times above safe levels.
“I was upset,” Amber Smith says. “It’s putting our kids health at risk- it's putting our health at risk!”
However, industry regulators aren’t yet convinced. The TRC is conducting more tests.
Other studies yielded mixed results. A review commissioned by the town showed almost no arsenic or lead in the drinking water, but revealed high levels of other chemicals, including acetone.
The mayor said all the studies taken together should prove something is wrong. “You can't just test one day and say everything is fine or everything is bad,” Tillman said.
Devon Energy says it’s interested in the results, but is waiting for guidance from the TRC. “We haven’t heard from them,” said company spokesperson Chip Minty.
The Smiths remain deeply worried. They rely on bottled water to drink and to brush their teeth.
They installed a water filter, but it doesn’t catch all of the chemicals, so they worry about exposure when they bathe — especially for their two young children.
“You try to do it as quickly as possible, but with having a three-year-old, some of that is going to get in his mouth," Amber Smith said.
"What else do we do? We don't have any other sources at this point to get clean water.”