Common Sense Canadian

EPA watchdog finds water concerns over Texas fracking justified

PostedDecember 26, 2013 by in International
EPA watchdog finds water concerns over Texas fracking justified

Steve Lipsky’s water issues are at the centre of a regulatory controversy involving fracking in Texas

Read this Dec. 24 story from and Earthworks on the findings of the US EPA’s internal watchdog, justifying the agency’s intervention in a water contamination case regarding frackin in Texas.

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General found EPA Region 6 was justified in legally intervening to protect Parker County, TX residents’ drinking water from drilling impacts. At Sen. Inhofe’s (R-OK) request, the Inspector General investigated to determine if Region 6’s intervention against Range Resources was due to political influence by the Obama administration.

“The EPA’s internal watchdog has confirmed that the EPA was justified in stepping in to protect residents who were and still are in imminent danger,” said Sharon Wilson, Gulf regional organizer of Earthworks. “Now we need an investigation as to whether political corruption caused EPA to withdraw that protection.”

The EPA invoked its power to protect drinking water in 2010, prompting Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe to request the Inspector General’s investigation in 2011. The EPA withdrew its legal complaint against Range Resources in 2012 despite having a report from an independent scientist showing that a gas well drilled by Range likely polluted nearby water supplies.

The EPA’s withdrawal from Parker County appears to be part of a larger pattern, in which the Obama administration has blocked or abandoned investigations of whether drilling or hydraulic fracturingpolluted drinking water. In addition to the case in Parker County, reports in major news outlets indicate that the Obama administration caused the EPA to abandon studies of potential drilling or fracking pollution in Pavillion, WY and Dimock, PA despite evidence of drilling-related harm.

“The Obama administration appears to be more concerned about protecting corporate interests, not the public interest,” said Steve Lipsky, a Weatherford, TX homeowner who sued Range Resources after the EPA named the company the party responsible for contaminating his drinking water well. “President Obama promised that hydraulic fracturing would occur safely. With this IG report, it now seems clear that he is determined to squash any evidence to the contrary.”

Just prior to the release of the Inspector General report, the Texas Railroad Commission (regulator of oil and gas, not railroads) opened an investigation into the case. The EPA intervened in 2010 to protect area drinking water only after the commission refused to do so. The Commission’s new investigation prevents the EPA from legally intervening now as it did in 2010.



About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.


    scotty on denman

    If fracking methane can contaminate well water, then it also must contaminate soil water.
    Moreover, soil breathes so gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and, where fracking has contaminated ground water, methane, are ‘exhaled’ into the atmosphere where the methane acts as a greenhouse gas many times more potent than CO2. The question is: how much methane does fracking put into the atmosphere by way of ground water?

    The plaintiffs in most of these cases can prove both that their well water was good up until fracking occurred and only then became contaminated with methane, important not only in assigning culpability but in calculating damages, the cost of repair or replacement and compensating irrecoverable loss. Liability is potentially huge, covering, as it might, longterm health, risk to life and limb (gas explosion, fire), devaluation of property, cost of water treatment, value of other amenities and opportunities lost to the plaintiffs through no fault of their own.

    Industry wouldn’t dream of letting this liability to cut into profits, the addiction to which it blissfully presumes legitimate only because Morpheus, whom it has mistaken for our government, allows it to be so. In reality, if all the liabilities of fracking were accounted, there would be no profit, a nightmare industry simply cannot imagine in its current state of euphoria. Neo-right governments have no qualms about socializing environmental costs of fossil fuel development. Even melting arctic ice, receding glaciers and rising sea levels can, with only a tiny bit of thought, be construed as evidence of rising GHG levels only circumstantially; but I notice climate-change deniers have receded alarmingly fast in the last few years, too. Coincidence?

    When it comes to lawsuits over specific damages like contaminated wells, where it’s not so easy to hide behind bafflegab, the Albetar government has resorted to one of the more detestable tactics for which neo-right governments are infamous: legal wars of attrition defending industry-friendly policy against lawsuits and paying for it out of public funds, walls too high to scale for all but the most wealthy, regardless the truth of the claimed damages.

    It’s hard to see how this issue won’t soon grow to some kind of critical mass that will precipitate major changes in how petro-goo is developed.

      Rural Alberta

      “If fracking methane can contaminate well water, then it also must contaminate soil water.
      Moreover, soil breathes so gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and, where fracking has contaminated ground water, methane, are ‘exhaled’ into the atmosphere”

      And according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s information on “vapour intrusion” … into our homes, schools, businesses etc:

      “Concerns about VI have arisen primarily because volatile and toxic organic compounds are common contaminants at Superfund sites. It has become clear with time and experience that VI of these compounds may pose a potential long-term chronic risk to the health of residents, workers, and other building occupants through inhalation of indoor air that has been affected by vapors emitted from subsurface contaminated soil or groundwater.

      Because of the heightened toxicity of many volatile compounds, very low concentrations of contaminants may pose an unacceptable health risk. In certain, but less common, circumstances arising from VI, volatile chemicals of concern can exhibit flammability (for example, methane) or acute toxicity (for example, hydrogen sulfide) if sufficient concentrations accumulate in indoor air.

      VI is a potential concern at any building — existing or planned — located near soil or groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals that can volatilize (EPA 2002, 2008a). VOCs may migrate substantial distances from the original location of contamination and occur in the subsurface near or beneath buildings as a separate phase, such as a non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL), as dissolved contaminants in groundwater, or as a vapor in soil gas.”

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