State investigates new complaint of methane contamination in Parker County

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A Parker County couple who live near natural gas wells told the Texas Railroad Commission their well water has become badly contaminated with methane.

According to Railroad Commission inspection reports, Carroll Dawson and his wife said they have been told that tests of water and air inside their home revealed high methane levels. The reports were first reported by EnergyWire, an online news service, which said Railroad Commission inspectors visited at least four households in the area.

In an email, a Railroad Commission representative said the matter is being investigated. “Staff in our Oil and Gas Division inform me that the Dawson household and other residents in the area have filed new complaints regarding methane in their water wells,” the email said.

A telephone call to the Dawson home was not returned.

Steve Lipsky, a Parker County homeowner who lives within 1,000 feet of the Dawsons, said Monday that several households in the Silverado development in far southern Parker County are having methane problems. Methane contamination of Lipsky’s water well set off a furious battle starting in late 2010 that involved Fort Worth-based Range Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Railroad Commission.

The Railroad Commission determined in 2011 that methane in Lipsky’s well was from a shallow natural gas formation that Lipsky’s water well had tapped, rather than from the much-deeper Barnett Shale. In 2012, the EPA unexpectedly withdrew an emergency order it had issued against Range, which has long contended that its gas wells were not the source of the methane.

According to a Railroad Commission report dated Aug. 7, the Dawsons told agency inspectors that their well stopped producing water in June and that their water well driller told them the well showed methane buildup. The Dawsons had the air inside their home tested, “which they were told is not explosive, but they need to address the methane issue in the water and air at their residence,” the RRC report says.

“The Dawsons stated that they were told that the water was at the saturation level of methane/water levels, and that is how the methane got in their house,” the report says. It says the Dawsons put a vent on their water tank in response.

The report does not identify a producer, but EnergyWire says Range wells and a Devon Energy well are in the area.

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, said the EPA’s 2010 order required the company to measure methane levels in water wells within 3,000 feet of two of its wells. It did so until March, one year after the EPA withdrew its order, he said.

“We monitored those wells and provided all that data to the EPA and the Railroad Commission,” Pitzarella said. “There was some fluctuation in water quality, because of seasonal variations,” but otherwise no unusual results, he said.

Pitzarella said it has been well established that at least one water well was drilled into the shallow formation, called the Strawn, “causing a direct connection” from that gas-bearing formation to the overlying aquifer.

Lipsky said researchers from Duke University have taken samples on three occasions from a number of homes in the Silverado development, the last coming less than two weeks ago.

“I have lots of neighbors with high readings,” said Lipsky, who has had a long-running legal dispute with Range, which claimed he defamed the company and sued him. Lipsky said the recent tests prove that the EPA was correct when it first said his water contained dangerous levels of methane.

He sent the Star-Telegram two tests he said were from the Duke study, which has not yet been completed. Both showed methane concentrations several times greater than an “action level” recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Duke researchers in June released their second study of methane levels in groundwater in Pennsylvania. It found generally higher levels of methane, ethane and propane near gas wells. It concluded that inadequate casing and cementing of the wells was the likely cause.

A study by University of Texas at Arlington researchers in July found higher levels of heavy metals near active natural gas production. It did not measure methane levels.

Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay

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