Research Links Drilling Activities to Water Contamination in North Texas

Sep 16, 2014
Originally published on September 16, 2014 11:34 am

For years, some residents of Parker County in North Texas have believed that nearby gas drilling was responsible for high levels of methane in neighborhood water wells. Research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences appears to back that up.

The study looked at water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania. It suggests that faulty cement jobs on drilling wells could be at fault in North Texas. Cement is poured between the rock wall and the steel tubing of oil and gas wells to block contaminants.

“We think either there isn’t enough cement in this location or more likely there are cracks or imperfections in that cement. That’s what allowed the strong gas to move up through the well and then out into peoples drinking water,” says Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Stanford, who co-authored of the study.

“One of the most interesting things was that we saw two houses go from clean to contaminated over the study period,” says Jackson. “One home, in particular, the methane in their water jumped tenfold from one sampling time to the next. So we caught contamination in the act.”

The results back up residents’ claims that gas wells operated by Range Resources contaminated their wells.  One of those residents, Steve Lipsky, is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the company after suggesting that the wells caused his water to become flammable.

But the study may contain a silver lining for the industry, says lead author Thomas Darrah of Ohio State University.

“By looking at some of the worst case scenarios or at least the most controversial scenarios of methane contamination,” he says, the study shows “there is an implementable engineering solutions that could potentially could fix the aspects of shale gas drilling that is a concern.”

The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. In May, it released an investigation saying there was insufficient evidence to link the methane in the wells to drilling operations. In an email to StateImpact Texas, Commission spokesperson Ramona Nye says staff is reviewing the new study and has no statement at this time.

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