Weatherford Democrat

April 2, 2014

EPA asked to reopen probe into local water contamination

Eight Democratic congressman sign letter sent to EPA’s McCarthy

Weatherford Democrat

— From Staff Reports

Congressman Matt Cartwright, of Pennsylvania, and seven other U.S. representatives have signed a letter asking the EPA and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, to reopen its investigations into water contamination issues that are possibly related to oil and gas drilling operations.

Cited in the letter are water contamination cases in Pavillion, Wyo., Dimock, Pa., and here in Parker County, which refers to water contamination reported by Steven Lipsky and others who live in the Silverado on the Brazos subdivision south of Weatherford, as well as neighboring residents of the subdivision.

Lipsky has been embroiled in a battle to prove that natural gas drilling has contaminated his well water to the point he has put on numerous demonstrations of him lighting his water on fire as it pours from a spigot.

Lipsky sued the original owner of nearby gas wells, Range Resources, but the case was dismissed by a Parker County judge. Meanwhile, Range Resources has a suit alleging defamation, among other things, pending against Lipsky.

Lipsky is hoping ongoing studies, including one by Duke University researchers who have been to his home, will vindicate his claims that gas drilling has contaminated not only his well water, but also area water wells.

Joining Cartwright, D-Pa., in the letter to the EPA are fellow Democratic congressmen Alan Lowenthal and Jared Huffman, both from California; Raul M. Grijalva, of Arizona; Keith Ellison, of Minnesota; David Scott, of Georgia; and Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin.

The letter states that while “technological developments have led to an oil and gas boom that has brought us closer to energy independence, created jobs, lowered fuel prices, and generated incredible profits for oil and gas companies, a patchwork of state regulations, exemptions from many of our federal environment laws and a lack of enforcement have forced communities living in and near to heavily drilled areas to pay the price for this boom.

Water contamination is just one of the impacts felt by communities across the country, from Texas to Pennsylvania.”

The letter notes that while states largely are responsible for regulating “unconventional drilling operations,” the congressmen believe the EPA “has a key role to play in oil and gas development. Despite the industry’s exemptions from some of our bedrock environmental laws, the EPA does have the power to help ease the burden of directly impacted communities.”

The letter says people in the three named areas “all experienced the negative impacts of an under regulated drilling industry first hand. Each community was grateful when the EPA stepped in to help deal with their water contamination issues, and disheartened when the EPA stopped their investigations, leaving them with polluted water and little explanation.”

The letter continues: “We are writing to urge you to take any and all steps within your power to help these communities. The EPA was established to hold states accountable and guarantee baseline protection for the American public and shared environment, and these families deserve that protection. Members of these communities currently do not have safe, clean drinking water and need EPA’s help to address the ongoing water contamination issues in their homes and get EPA assurance once their water is clean and safe.”

In March 2012, the EPA dropped an emergency order issued in late 2010 against Range Resources, halting a federal court battle and the inquiry into the cause of the gas migration.

An EPA inspector general’s report released in December found that the agency dropped its order, in part, because the EPA was concerned about mounting legal costs and concerns about how the legal outcome could affect other enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Critics, however, have claimed the administration declined to pursue the case because of industry and political pressure.