Hydraulic fracturing — often called “fracking” — allows drillers to tap into oil and gas reserves that were once considered out of reach because they were locked in deep layers of rock.
The method has contributed to a surge in natural gas drilling nationwide, but environmental activists and some scientists believe it can contaminate groundwater. The industry insists the practice is safe.
Range Resources, a leading independent player in the natural gas boom, has hundreds of gas wells throughout Texas, Pennsylvania and other mineral-rich areas of the United States. Among them is a production site — now owned by Legend Natural Gas — in a wooded area about a mile from Lipsky’s home in Weatherford.
State agencies usually regulate water and air pollution, so the EPA’s involvement in the Texas matter was unusual from the start. The EPA began investigating complaints about the methane in December 2010, because it said the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling, had not responded quickly enough to the reports of bubbling water.
Government scientists believed two families, including the Lipskys, were in danger from methane and cancer-causing benzene and ordered Range Resources to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water. The company stopped doing that after state regulators declared in March 2011 that Range Resources was not responsible. The dispute between the EPA and the company then moved into federal court.
Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources’ nearby drilling operation.
Meanwhile, the EPA was seeking industry leaders to participate in a national study into hydraulic fracturing. Range Resources told EPA officials in Washington that so long as the agency continued to pursue a “scientifically baseless” action against the company in Weatherford, it would not take part in the study and would not allow government scientists onto its drilling sites, said company attorney David Poole.