Texas Homes at Risk from Drilling Contamination, EPA Says

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Whether it’s from flood, fire or a tornado, there are few more devastating events than losing a home. But it’s hard to equal the shock of having your house suddenly just blow up.

That’s why the Al Amendariz, Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 Administrator, deserves kudos for issuing an emergency order last week (Dec. 7) directing a major gas drilling company to heed warnings from two Texas homeowners that methane and carcinogenic benzene from nearby gas wells had contaminated their groundwater.

“I believe I’ve got two people whose houses could explode,” Almendariz told the Dallas Morning News. “So we’ve got to move.”

In a release, EPA noted that testing had found “extremely high levels of methane” in the well water of both homes, posing “an imminent and substantial risk of explosion and fire.” The emergency order directed Range Resources Corp. to provide the affected Parker County homeowners with clean drinking water, sample soil and drinking water around the homes for gas and take other steps to correct the problem. Range Resources is a major player in the current wave of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies Northeast states from West Virginia to New York.

At a time when gas drilling and the use of hydraulic fracturing to free trapped gas from deep rock formations is experiencing enormous growth across the country — and complaints of water contamination are surging — Environmental Working Group has argued that most regulators are not paying close enough attention to the potential risks.

“It’s good to see EPA taking action,” said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel at EWG and author of a series of studies of hydraulic fracturing, often called “fracking.” “There have been too many problems around the country where people ended up with contaminated water or homes have exploded.”

Horwitt cited a 2007 blast that destroyed a home in Bainbridge, Ohio, and numerous reports of homeowners who found they could light their tap water on fire after gas wells were drilled nearby.

“We hope other EPA regions will be equally vigilant,” Horwitt added. Regulation of the drilling industry has largely been left to the states after Congress voted in 2005 to exempt fracking operations from federal regulation under the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws.

“Recently there’s been a pattern of federal action on drilling issues, and it looks as if the government is getting the message – finally -- that there are some real dangers here and it should be ready to act,” Horwitt said.


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