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Driller denies blame for methane in Parker County homes' water

Fort Worth-based Range Resources Corp. said in a statement today that its own investigation has shown that its drilling activities were not responsible for methane contamination of two water wells in southwest Parker County, contrary to findings by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"Based on our findings to date, it's very clear that our activities have not had any impact on the water aquifer in Parker County or the subject water wells," Range said. "The investigation has revealed that methane in the water aquifer existed long before our activity and likely is naturally occurring migration from several shallow zones immediately below the water aquifer."

Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

"Range¡'s wells are completed in the Barnett Shale formation, which is over a mile below the water zone," the company said in the statement posted on its website, www.rangeresources.com.

The EPA said Tuesday, however, that two Parker County homes have water contaminated by natural gas drilling activities and face the risk of fire and explosion.

The EPA issued an emergency order against Range, telling the drilling company to provide the homes with safe drinking water and take other measures to protect the nine residents after the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas drilling, declined to take immediate action.

"The Railroad Commission has told us our actions are premature, but I believe they are mistaken," EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said. "We are worried about the families' safety. It was incumbent on us to act quickly."

Armendariz said the EPA is "very concerned" that natural gas could migrate into the home through waterlines, leading to a fire or explosion.

Officials declined to identify the homeowners, who live in the southwestern portion of the county.

Range said in its statement today that it "has been working with the Texas Railroad Commission staff, engineers and field inspectors for several months and has conducted extensive testing of both Range-operated gas wells and the water wells of concern."

"We've provided those findings to the landowner, the Railroad Commission and the EPA," the company said.

Despite its own findings, Range said "we remain committed to working with regulators and residents to determine the cause and assist with any remediation the Texas Railroad Commission determines is warranted. Range will also offer to provide drinking water to residents in the area while the investigation continues."

Railroad Commission Chairman Victor G. Carrillo blasted the EPA's actions, saying it is "unprecedented in Texas, and commissioners will consider all options as we move forward."

The commission said in a statement that it has "made no conclusions about possible sources of natural gas and hydrocarbons found in a water well. Additionally, no pathways from a deep hydrocarbon source to the water well have been identified."

Commissioner Michael Williams called the EPA's actions "Washington politics of the worst kind."

"The EPA's act is nothing more than grandstanding in an effort to interject the federal government into Texas business," Williams said. "The Railroad Commission has been on top of this issue from Day One. We will continue to take all necessary action to protect Texas lakes, rivers and aquifers."

"Texans have no interest in Washington doing for Texas what it did for Louisiana fishermen," he said, referring to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Railroad Commission said Range agreed Friday to conduct further testing of its well and "perform soil gas surveys that may lead to additional environmental investigation activities, monitor gas concentrations, and offer a water supply to the residence."

After the commission's inspection Aug. 6, one homeowner contacted Parker County Judge Mark Riley, who visited one of the homes. He said the problem quickly became apparent.

"I went out to his home and saw it firsthand, putting a lighter to the end of the water hose and flames coming out, a strong odor in the drinking water and the homeowner having his sliding glass door open to prevent a buildup of fumes inside," Riley said.

"I'm certainly not a scientist, but anybody with common sense would know an issue existed."

Riley said he has had no contact with the second homeowner, whose property was included in the emergency order after the EPA was called in.

Riley's office filed two open-records requests with the Railroad Commission to learn more about the findings, but Riley said the reports provided little information. He would not reveal the identity of the homeowner, who wishes to remain anonymous.

"I'm no fan of having the federal government coming in but, once again, we have state agencies that should be doing their job and instead are letting the federal government come in and do it for them," Riley said.

The EPA filed an imminent and substantial endangerment order under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

In that order, Range Resources has 24 hours to indicate in writing whether it will comply with the order and must install EPA-approved "explosivity meters" in the homes within 48 hours.

In the next five days, Range must list and identify all private water wells within 3,000 feet of the drilling site, including the Lake Country Acres subdivision public water supply wells, and test those water wells for contamination.

Within 14 days, Range must submit a plan to conduct soil gas surveys and indoor air concentration analyses of the two contaminated water wells that serve the two homes. In the next two months, the order states, Range must identify any "gas flow pathways to the Trinity Aquifer" and eliminate those flows if possible and conduct remediation if the aquifer has been harmed.

The accounts of hose water igniting are similar to those seen in the documentary Gasland, which spotlighted concerns over gas drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, as well as the Barnett Shale and other formations across the country.

In October, Pennsylvania's top environmental regulator threatened to sue Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. unless it paid about $12 million to extend a public waterline to at least 18 residents whose water wells were contaminated with methane, according to The Associated Press.

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