EPA Halts Investigation Into Texas Fracking leaks

Photo -   In this Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Steve Lipsky demonstrates how his well water ignites when he puts a flame to the flowing well spigot outside his family's home in rural Parker County near Weatherford, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had evidence a gas company's drilling operation contaminated Lipsky's drinking water with explosive methane, and possibly cancer-causing chemicals, but withdrew its enforcement action, leaving the family with no useable water supply, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The EPA's decision to roll back its initial claim that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations had contaminated the water is the latest case in which the federal agency initially linked drilling to water contamination and then softened its position, drawing criticism from Republicans and industry officials who insisted they proved the agency was inefficient and too quick to draw conclusions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)  In 2010 the Lipskys and one other family in an upscale neighborhood near Fort Worth, Tex., complained to officials when their water from the faucet started bubbling.  The family’s water contained so much methane in it that water from the garden hose outside could be lit on fire.

Concerned for methane and cancer-causing benzene contamination the EPA immediately cautioned the two households to stop using the water and ordered the nearby natural gas drilling company, Range Resources, to clean up the wells and provide clean water to the families.

Range Resources started drilling in the area only a mile away from the Lipskys home in 2009. The company then commissioned an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze the water and determine if the contamination could have been caused by the drilling for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing, or more commonly referred to as “fracking.”  Thyne analyzed water from 32 wells and concluded that it was entirely possible that the two family’s wells could have been contaminated by the nearby fracking.  Regardless, the EPA has since been in a legal battle with Range Resources and has stopped providing clean water to the families.

At the time the EPA was attempting to commission a large scale study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing. Range Resources refused to comply with any of the government scientists in the study and claimed it would not let any scientists onto their drilling sites. Upon Range Resources refusal to cooperate, the EPA dropped the court battle and retracted the emergency order going against Thyne’s conclusions. Range Resources commissioned another study from local scientist Mark McCaffrey at Weatherford Laboratories, but will not release the results, nor will McCaffrey respond to any interview requests.

The EPA gave no reason for its reversal, but it is presumably related to the industry’s refusal to comply with the studies.  This is not the only time the EPA has gone back on its investigations into the oil and gas companies on the subject of hydraulic fracturing. It happened in Wyoming near the end of 2011 as well when the EPA released a report that linked fracking to contaminated groundwater.

The Lipskys now pay $1,000 a month to have clean water hauled in and have not heard anything additional from the EPA on the matter.

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