Texas Railroad Commission hearing examiners found that two Barnett Shale natural gas wells operated by Fort Worth-based Range Resources were not the source of methane-gas contamination of residential water wells in Parker County.
In a report Monday, examiners Gene Montes and Donna Chandler said the "most likely source of gas" in the water well of homeowner Steven Lipsky "and other domestic water wells in the area" is the Strawn geological formation, a gas-bearing rock that is much closer to the surface than the Barnett Shale, which lies more than a mile underground.
They recommend that the three-member Railroad Commission issue a final order that says Range's Teal No. 1-H and Butler No. 1-H wells on the border of Parker and Hood counties "have not contributed ... to contamination of any domestic water wells."
The commissioners are to meet March 22.
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The examiners' finding is a major victory for Range, which has vigorously fought a Dec. 7 emergency order by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA contended that Range's wells "caused or contributed" to contamination of the water wells of Lipsky and a nearby resident, Rick Hayley.
An EPA regional enforcement official, John Blevins, later backtracked on that contention in a court deposition, saying Range's wells "may" have caused or contributed to the contamination.
Methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas.
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the examiners' report echoes the company's contentions.
"As we've said from the start, we knew that our operations were not the cause of this long-standing issue that has been safely and effectively managed by state regulators, private businesses and landowners, " he said.
EPA officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
Experts hired by Range, including petroleum engineers and hydrogeologists, testified at a Jan. 19 Railroad Commission staff hearing that the Strawn was the likely source of methane contamination of the Lipsky and Hayley water wells in the upscale Silverado subdivision in south Parker County. Range noted that gas wells were drilled into the Strawn many years before Barnett Shale drilling began.
The EPA declined to present information at the Jan. 19 hearing, which focused on the Lipsky well.
Range, in a filing with the commission Monday, asked that it formally determine that Range's gas wells were not a contamination source and close its investigation of the company. The request was made in a letter from Mike Middlebrook, Range's Barnett Shale operations manager, and included hundreds of pages of supporting documents..
Middlebrook said the experts that Range hired "concluded that the source for gas in these water wells is a naturally occurring hydrogeologic connection between the shallow fresh-water aquifer and the shallow gas-bearing Strawn formation." Middlebrook said the problem "has been exacerbated by water wells drilled too deep and into the Strawn."
"The natural gas found in the Lipsky well is the type of nitrogen-rich gas that matches the shallow Strawn formation and not the Barnett Shale," Range said. "This means that the gas found in the Lipsky well cannot be from Range's wells or from the Barnett."
Range said testing showed its Teal and Butler gas wells had "mechanical integrity" and that neither was leaking gas.
The company said it installed meters in the Lipsky and Hayley homes in December to detect any gases that might contribute to an explosion. "All meters have read zero for the entire time since installation," Middlebrook said.
Jack Z. Smith, 817-390-7724