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Water expert defends Range

January 04, 2011
TOPICS: Natural gas
Back in December, EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz chastised Range Resources, accusing the company of contaminating drinking water while drilling in the Barnett Shale. A natural gas industry newsletter said natural gas had long been detected in the water where the wells were drilled, and now a local water expert is backing up that claim.

From Platts:

"At this point we don't have adequate information to decide if the company is responsible," said Bob Patterson, general manager of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

Patterson said methane gas had been found in water wells in that corner of northern Texas for a number of years before Fort Worth, Texas-based Range began drilling gas wells there, targeting the Barnett Shale formation.

"At least since the late '60s or early '70s there has been gas in a number of [water] wells in that area prior to development of the Barnett Shale," Patterson said.

Patterson's comments reflect the position of Range and an industry-oriented publication, which have contended that the producer should not be held responsible for the contamination of the water wells.

In early December, the EPA issued an "imminent and substantial endangerment" order requiring Range to take immediate steps to protect homeowners living near one of its drilling operations in Weatherford, Texas.

The agency took the action upon finding methane and other hydrocarbon contaminants in the water wells after residents complained about flammable and bubbling drinking water from their taps.

The order triggered a regulatory showdown with the Texas Railroad Commission, which said it had the primary authority to regulate the water well contamination.

The TRC has scheduled a public hearing for January 10 to investigate the incidence of water well contamination and to determine the appropriate action to take.

Patterson -- whose agency works to ensure safe and adequate water supplies in a region comprising Hood, Parker, Wise and Montague counties -- said there is no indication at this time that the methane contamination goes beyond the two affected water wells. "There is nothing to indicate whether the aquifer is contaminated," he said.
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