News 8 Investigates

WISE COUNTY, TX – Several residents of a North Texas community say their well water is making them so sick they have stopped drinking it. They also say their pleas for help have gone unheeded.

They live in an unincorporated residential development called Chisholm Springs, just north of Fort Worth in southern Wise County. All 200 homes in the community are on a common water well system.

From street level, Chisholm Springs seems like an isolated slice of the American Dream. But a satellite view reveals that residents are not so alone. They are, in fact, surrounded by dozens of drilling pad sites in the heart of the Barnett Shale. one of the world's largest natural gas fields. Some say that's a concern.

Here is a screen grab of Chisholm Springs (circled) plotted on the Texas Railroad Commission's oil and gas map.
Here is a screen grab of Chisholm Springs (circled) plotted on the Texas Railroad Commission's oil and gas map.

A 2015 report published in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology” by a team of University of Texas at Arlington scientists shows hundreds of private water wells in the Barnett Shale are contaminated with fracking-related chemicals. That’s why Chisholm Springs’ residents are starting to worry about their water, which comes from water wells surrounded by drilling activity.

“When you can see it, when you can smell it and you can feel it, there’s something wrong,” said resident Robyn Taylor.

While no test results so far suggest the water quality issues are related to gas drilling, state officials, spurred by WFAA's questions, say they will now be testing for fracking-related compounds.

Taylor and more than two dozen of her neighbors recently joined together at the community clubhouse to relate to News 8 the extent of the contamination, and their fears.

They all had complaints, many the same. Discolored, bad tasting and smelling water were the most common. But several told News 8 the water irritates and burns their skin.

Photos provided by Chisholm Springs residents of water burning or irritating their skin
Photos provided by Chisholm Springs residents of water burning or irritating their skin

“I got out of the shower and probably within minutes, my hands were beet red and they were burning,” said Leslie Houston, who has lived in the Chisholm Springs development for 10 years. “I kept saying ‘Something’s burning my skin, something's burning my skin.’”

Houston said the water has always tasted so bad her family never drinks it. But she and other residents say in the past few months, rashes and skin problems have them worried. “It’s something in the water,” she said. “It has to be.”

Others told News 8 they often get headaches or unexplained dizziness in the shower or in their homes. ”I notice when I get in the shower, it gets worse,” said Phyl Hutchinson. “I get so dizzy. It’s like I’m going to pass out.”

Kim Smith said her family has rashes and is getting headaches. “You scratch and scratch,” she said. “And the headaches have really been bad in the mornings. My daughter and my husband have been getting dizzy.”

The Chisholm Springs water system is owned and operated by Aqua America, one of the largest private water utilities in the country.

Aqua Texas
Aqua Texas

Residents say they have complained to Aqua, and workers have been testing the water in recent days. But corporate spokesperson Gretchen Toner tells News 8: “We have found no information (supporting the resident’s complaints). Chisholm Springs has consistently met federal and state drinking water standards.”

Aqua officials say recent tests for methane in the water came back negative. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulates water systems in the state. When a Chisholm Springs resident recently filed a complaint, the state only ran a chlorine level test and found the water “was in compliance.”

But now that News 8 has started asking questions, state officials have said new tests for possible drilling-related contamination are being ordered. “The TCEQ will evaluate the results of samples that the system contracted an independent lab to collect,” said Brian McGovern, TCEQ spokesman. “The TCEQ investigation report is anticipated to be completed by May 20, 2016.”

When pressed for details on who exactly was conducting the testing, the TCEQ told News 8 they were relying on Aqua to provide them with data.

Meanwhile, Houston said she and her family avoid contact with the water and load up on skin care lotions and rash medicines. She hopes someone will finally do something to find out what’s in the water that’s making them sick.

“I just want to move now,” Houston said. “I don’t know how it’s affected my health, my kids health, my friends and family that live out here. It’s sad that nobody takes it seriously.”