By Rebekah Williams
Methane levels five times above safety level sparking concerns in Texas
“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of obtaining natural gas from underground.
A mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure into the earth, causing cracks in the shale rock through which gas and petroleum may migrate into the created well.
Currently, there are over 500,000 active gas wells in the United States alone.
Since its first commercial use in 1949, fracking has been highly controversial, primarily because of its effects on the environment.
While the solution pumped into the ground is composed of 95 percent water and only 0.5 percent chemicals, it is pumped in such high amounts that it is estimated approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used per fracturing.
These chemicals, which include known carcinogens, toxins and methane gas, leach out from the surrounding ecosystem, contaminating nearby groundwater supplies.
In 2010, Steve Lipsky of Fort Worth, Texas noticed his water was behaving more like champagne, causing him to place a call to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Lipsky informed the EPA that he was capable of lighting his water on fire.
The EPA issued an emergency order, warning residents that their water may be contaminated with combustible methane.
The EPA investigated Range Resources, the agency responsible for drilling near Lipsky’s home.
However, it suddenly rescinded the order, citing financial reasons as the cause of the abrupt halt to the study.
A few years later, the Associated Press performed its own investigation, questioning the intentions of the EPA. Documents show that the EPA had sufficient evidence against Range Resources, which demonstrated that its drilling was releasing contaminants into the water.
However, when company executives and Congressional Republicans started applying pressure, the EPA backed off.
Further documents prove that the results of the EPA’s research, which show that contamination was a result of the drilling performed by Range Resources, was ignored.
Less than a month ago, the EPA’s Inspector General released its report concluding the EPA was justified in intervening to protect the drinking water from hydraulic fracturing performed by Range Resources.
This ruling has done little to settle Lipsky, who still has a $3 million defamation lawsuit being filed against him by Range Resources.
Meanwhile, Lipsky has been forced to take matters into his own hands.
Feeling that there is no other option but to relocate, Lipsky is currently spending $1,000 per month to bring clean water to his family. He is seeking legal help to take on Range Resource’s countering legal efforts.
Lipsky told the Associated Press, “I just can’t believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn’t use it.”
In lieu of a more comprehensive study, a team of researchers at Duke University, led by environmental science professor Rob Jackson, just released its own independent study.
Duke has led the research of the impact that hydraulic fracking has on the environment and the health and safety of residents near fracking sites.
Through isotopic analysis of samples taken from homeowners’ wells, the Duke study determined that combustible levels of methane do, in fact, exist near Fort Worth, Texas.
The study has prompted the EPA to re-open its original investigation.
The study’s results also bring into question the study performed by Range Resources, leading many to ask if the initial study was done with alternative motives.
Range Resources claims its testing was performed by an independent researcher. According to a spokesman for Range Resources in Fort Worth, Matt Pitzarella, “Range used state and federally approved testing methodologies that are internationally recognized and those results have found historically consistent water quality. Range’s operations did not cause or contribute to the long-standing and well-documented matter of naturally occurring methane.”
That being said, the numbers speak for themselves.
The study performed by Range Resources in mid-2012 found 4.2 milligrams per liter of randomly selected drinking water.
Duke’s recent study found 54.7 milligrams. The results from Duke show that the water from many homes exceeds the level of 10 milligrams per liter safety level set by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Whether or not Range Resources correctly carried out their 2012 study, the fact remains that methane now exists in the Fort Worth water supply at a level of over five times the recommended safety level.
This safety concern to both the public and environment needs to be addressed and investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency further as companies across the country look to obtain hydraulic fracturing permits.