News & Politics

Study Blows a Hole in EPA Claim That Homes Near Fracking Site Are Not in Danger

Texas residents say the Environmental Protection Agency should re-open an investigation into a gas-drilling company.

Food & Water Watch sponsors a rally against fracking in New York.
Photo Credit: a katz /

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped an inquiry into claims that a gas-drilling operation had contaminated water in Parker County, Texas.  The move angered anti-fracking activists and the homeowners whose water is impacted by fracking operations.

Their anger will probably increase with the latest news:  Duke University researchers have confirmed that there are combustible levels of methane in some of the water wells in Parker County.

The declaration by the EPA last year said that a “group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water,” according to Bloomberg News.  Furthermore, the EPA “relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.”  The EPA, before dropping the investigation, had previously ruled that it was fracking that contaminated water in Texas.

The Duke research is now calling those moves into question.  Bloomberg News reports that “scientists from Duke have found high levels of methane in area wells...The results from Duke show the water from many homes exceeds the level of 10 milligrams per liter that the U.S. Geological Survey has set as a minimum safety level.”

The company doing the gas-drilling, Range Resources Corp., disputes the Duke claims.  

At the center of the claims and counter-claims is Steve Lipsky, a Parker County resident whose water well was contaminated by Range Resources’ fracking operations.  He has become a prominent figure in the fight, in part because of videos that show Lipsky lighting water out of his well on fire.  Lipsky sued Range Resources, who counter-sued Lipsky, claiming he defamed the company.

Lipsky now says the EPA should re-open an investigation into the water in his Texas county.

The decision to drop the inquiry into water in Texas last year fits into a larger pattern.  As ProPublica reported last year, the EPA closed inquiries into fracking or abandoned claims about its dangers.  “Environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling,” ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten reported.


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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