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EPA Says Gas Drilling in Texas Contaminated Water and Presents ‘Threat of Explosion’

The agency issued an emergency order this week giving a Texas drilling company 48 hours to provide drinking water to affected residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order yesterday accusing a natural gas driller of contaminating water supplies in North Texas and giving the company 48 hours to provide potable water to those affected.

In a letter sent to the drilling company, Range Resources, [PDF], the agency said it had determined an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to a public aquifer through methane contamination related to the company’s oil and gas operations in the area. Two private wells had already been contaminated, according to the EPA:

The Agency has data to indicate that two private drinking water wells, and potentially more, have been significantly impacted by the methane contamination which presents a potential threat of explosion due to high levels found dissolved in the drinking water and methane vapors present in the headspace of the drinking water wells, and therefore presents a potential imminent endangerment to the health of persons using those private drinking wells.

A spokesman for Range Resources told Bloomberg that “we don’t believe the methane that is found in that water has any connection to our activities.” The company has operations in Texas’ Barnett Shale gas field and is one of the largest leaseholders in Marcellus Shale, the gas field that underlies New York and Pennsylvania, according to Bloomberg.

This is the first time that natural gas drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process—or fracking—have been suspected of contaminating water supplies in Texas, an EPA regional director told the Associated Press. As we’ve reported, other states including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado have all experienced contamination linked to gas drilling.

The EPA said it decided to investigate after receiving complaints from residents regarding concerns with drinking water and learned that neither the company nor the state regulatory agency had adequately addressed those concerns.

The order comes amid a clash between the EPA and the state of Texas over air pollution standards.

The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday that EPA sent letters last week to 74 Texas refiners and chemical plastic makers, threatening them with penalties if they don’t comply with federal law regarding air pollution permits. The agency has said that the permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fall short of federal Clean Air Act requirements.

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