EPA Says Natural Gas Co. Contaminated Texas Wells


"EPA water testing identified "extremely high levels" of natural gas."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that oil and natural-gas producer Range Resources Corp. has contaminated a pair of drinking wells in North Texas's Barnett Shale, one of the richest natural-gas reservoirs in the U.S.

Two families living near natural-gas-producing wells owned by Range outside Fort Worth complained to federal regulators about "flammable and bubbling drinking water." EPA testing has identified "extremely high levels" of natural gas in the water.

Regulators said the concentration of natural gas "posed an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire." The government also identified other contaminants, including the carcinogen benzene, in the water and has asked a nearby rural water-system operator to test its supplies.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said, "We strongly believe this has no connection to our activities."

The EPA's move comes amid widespread environmental concerns over hydraulic fracturing. "Fracking" is at the source of an unprecedented boom in the onshore U.S. production of natural gas.

It's unclear, however, whether the contamination is due to the "fracking" process or to other mechanical and engineering problems.

The EPA said that residents came to the agency after talking to Range and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state, "but their concerns were not adequately addressed by the state or the company."

The EPA has ordered Range to take immediate steps to protect homeowners living near Range's operations in Parker County. Range must also investigate the structural integrity of nearby natural-gas operations to determine if they are the source of the contamination.

The EPA's move comes as states debate the future of their vast shale-bound oil and gas reserves. Last week the New York State Assembly instated a six-month ban on hydraulic fracturing, pending more study.

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