In Parker County, Regulators Forced to Revisit Allegations that Drilling Caused Contaminated Water

In Parker County, Regulators Forced to Revisit Allegations that Drilling Caused Contaminated Water
Monica Fuentes

Last year, we brought you the story of Steve Lipsky, whose little slice of paradise in Parker County became a proxy in the war between the EPA and state regulators. It wasn't long after Range Resources began stimulating a nearby natural gas well by hydraulic fracturing that Lipsky noticed his water was bubbling, and that his well was vapor-locking.

Railroad Commission of Texas investigators came out to take a look. They cited Range after they found pressure on the braden head of its well, meaning gas could be escaping up the wellbore. Months passed and state regulators seemed no closer to establishing a cause for the excess gas in Lipsky's well -- gas he could set aflame even as water issued from the same pipe. Finally, concluding the state wouldn't act, the EPA issued an endangerment order against Range, the first of its kind in Texas. State regulators responded in short order by dropping the notice of violation against Range and holding a hearing that was more like a trial in which one side presents its case -- Range's, largely.

The company was exonerated, and has been locked in a legal battle with Lipsky ever since. Its victory before the commission, it appears, may not be the final word. EnergyWire has a scoop indicating that the commission is once again investigating Lipsky's and other water wells in Parker County. At least four homeowners say the methane contamination in their water is only getting worse.

In one commission inspection report, a family had to install a specialized methane stripper in their water system because the usual one couldn't handle the extremely high levels of gas. A Duke University research group told the family that testing indicated gas levels in their water had reached "the saturation point." A consultant hired by Lipsky, EnergyWire reports, told investigators the indoor gas levels in one home were so high that there was a danger of asphyxiation.

Range, which no longer owns the wells, has always contended that the gas-suffused water is natural, a result of some water wells being drilled into a shallow gas formation. Lipsky's water-well driller testified that it held no gas when he sank it into the Trinity Aquifer.

Eager to enlist Range's participation in its landmark fracking study, EPA dropped the charges against Range, and the company agreed to conduct further monitoring of the water. According to EnergyWire, the new investigation could bring the case back before the commission. Only this time, it sounds like they'll hear testimony from homeowners.

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