EPA acts after water contaminated by drilling

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on December 7, 2010 at 10:58 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 7 at 11:25 PM

Contaminated water

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PARKER COUNTY — The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an emergency order after it determined that a natural gas company's operations caused or contributed to the contamination of drinking water in Parker County.

It's the first confirmed case of its kind in the Barnett Shale. On Tuesday afternoon, the EPA issued an emergency order to Range Resources under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The order alleges that natural gas from a Range Resources well about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth contaminated two private drinking water wells, which draw water from the same aquifer.

The company has been ordered to supply the families with clean drinking water, as well as monitors inside their homes to assess methane levels.

The EPA has also ordered Range Resources to take the necessary action to halt the flow of methane into the water supply.

EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz tells News 8 the EPA decided to issue the order after the Railroad Commission of Texas declined to act in the case. “We believe these were dangerous situations, it was very alarming," he said. "We believe we had to act, and act quickly to preserve the well-being of the families that live in these homes.”

According to the EPA, an isotopic fingerprint analysis of the gas in the drinking water well and the gas being produced from the Range Resources’ well found they are closely matched. Matt Pitzarella, a Range Resources spokesman, disputed that finding.

“At this time we have no evidence to suggest that our activities had any connection to the methane that's found in that area, and we're going to continue to be transparent and cooperative in determining what that ultimate cause was,” said Pitzarella.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carillo labeled the EPA's action as, “premature."

"The Railroad Commission continues to actively investigate this issue and has not yet determined the cause of the gas," Carillo said. "This EPA action is unprecedented in Texas, and commissioners will consider all options as we move forward."

The Railroad Commission said Range Resources was cooperating with the agency's ongoing investigation.

"This is Washington politics of the worst kind," added Commissioner Michael Williams. "The EPA's act is nothing more than grandstanding in an effort to interject the federal government into Texas business. The Railroad Commission has been on top of this issue from Day 1."

Armendariz said, “I disagree with the Railroad Commission’s lack of action. I believe that the evidence is very strong that not only is there natural gas in the water well, but that this is natural gas that's coming from the production activities of Range."

Under the EPA’s order, Range Resources must test water wells at several other surrounding homes to confirm there is no further contamination.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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