EPA Needs Fracking Review: ‘Gasland’ Maker, Environmentalists

Photograph by Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Gasland producer Josh Fox on June 11, 2013

“Gasland” producer Josh Fox joined groups in asking the Environmental Protection Agency to re-open its probe of water contamination from gas drilling in Texas after scientists found methane in wells at combustible levels.

“Evidence of contamination from fracking remains clear and residents remain at risk,” signers including singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant and leaders of local chapters of 350.org climate advocacy groups wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama today. “The previously closed EPA investigation into these matters must be re-opened.”

The letter cited a story by Bloomberg on Jan. 10 that showed how testing results from scientists at Duke University showed dangerous levels of methane in domestic wells. Methane can be explosive if released and confined.

The EPA filed a notice of violation against Range Resources Corp. in 2010, citing the contamination of local drinking wells from drilling and hydraulic fracturing nearby. After it dropped that case in early 2012, the agency required the company to test the water at the site for a year. The result of those tests showed minimal levels of methane in the water, in all but one case below federal standards for safety.

Range uses a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that involves shooting water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart rock and free trapped gas. It has spurred a boom in U.S. natural gas production in the Barnett Shale of Texas and other regions.

Range said the methane is naturally occurring and doesn’t match the gas from its wells.

Researchers from Duke University, funded by the National Science Foundation and its own funds, show the water in wells at many homes exceed the level of 10 milligrams per liter that the U.S. Geological Survey has set as a minimum safety level.

In response to a question about today’s request, the EPA provided a letter it wrote to the Natural Resources Defense Council on Jan. 10. NRDC had pressed the agency about why backed away from investigation in Texas, as well as in Pavillion,Wyoming, and Dimock, Pennsylvania, where residents near fracking sites complained about water quality.

“In each case, the EPA relied upon sound science as it sought to provide clarity to these stakeholders and ensure that public health was protected, while working closely with individual states, which have key capacity and regulatory authority relevant” to drilling, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in that letter.

“Beyond these instances, the EPA will continue to work with state partners and other stakeholders to help ensure that oil and gas extraction is done in a safe and responsible manner.”

Fox’s documentary, “Gasland,” portrayed the difficulties of people living near gas wells, including a family in Pavillion.

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