A Texas family whose drinking water turned into a bubbling cocktail of deadly methane gas after an energy company started fracking the ground near their home is wondering why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suddenly abandoned its efforts to help them.
Steve Lipsky and his family live in the Fort Worth suburb of Weatherford, but they are on the verge of having to abandon their upscale dream home because the water has become so saturated with methane gas, it can be ignited as it runs from the garden hose.
In late 2010, the EPA considered the Lipskys’ situation to be so critical that it issued a rare emergency order. The agency warned that a well had become so contaminated with methane that the Lipskys and at least one other household were in immediate danger from methane and cancer-causing benzene. But in March 2012, the EPA unexpectedly retracted the emergency order without explanation, bringing to a halt the agency’s court battle with Range Resources, the company with hydraulic fracturing operations near the Lipsky home.
The Associated Press, however, obtained a confidential report that may throw some light on why the EPA suddenly removed itself from this case.
According to an AP report, “the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing.” Regulators then set aside their analysis pointing to the drilling operation as a likely source for the contaminated well water. Other studies have demonstrated that methane concentrations are 17 times higher in drinking water wells near fracking sites than in normal wells while the fracking chemicals themselves leach into the water table.
There has been a surge in natural gas production in the U.S. thanks to fracking, a process in which largely undisclosed chemicals are injected deep into layers of rock to unlock oil and gas. Many scientists and environmentalists say that fracking contaminates the ground water, but industry officials, of course, claim the practice is safe.
The EPA has been trying to get energy companies to participate in a national study of fracking – a difficult task when so much of the process presents potential dangers to human and environmental health. Fracking fluids contain up to 600 chemicals, including known carcinogens such as lead, uranium, mercury, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde. Each fracking attempt requires the use of about 40,000 gallons of these chemicals.
Fracking opponents estimate that 72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals are needed to keep the half million wells currently active in the U.S. operating.
But while energy companies make hefty profits from the fossil fuels obtained by fracking (much of which is bound for export), it’s families like the Lipskys who have to pay the price.
“I just can’t believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn’t use it,” Mr. Lipsky told the AP. “This has been total hell,” he added. “It’s been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life.” Mr. Lipsky told the AP he fears his family will have to abandon their Weatherford home if the fracking operations a mile away continue.