'Conclusive link' between fracking, aquifer contamination found in Texas

Steve Lipsky of Parker County, Texas demonstrated for WFAA TV news how water coming from his well can be ignited. (Image is a still from WFAA news video.)

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Independent scientists who have reviewed a water analysis conducted by state authorities of a Texas resident's drinking well say the chemical signatures found in the water may provide "the nation's first conclusive link" between fracking operations and aquifer contamination.

Though a state investigation -- conducted by the Texas Railroad Commission in response to an official complaint filed by landowner and Parker County resident Steve Lipsky -- said it found the chemical analysis of the water inconclusive, experts shown the results say the commission was simply wrong. "And not just by a little," reports local ABC-affiliate WFAA News who shared the results with several scientists, "but by a lot."

Lipsky said he has long believed that nearby hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale was to blame for the increasing amounts of methane and other chemicals in his drinking water. Since 2010, he says, growing amounts of methane have been seeping into the groundwater beneath his land -- enough of it so that he can literally light the water coming out of his well on fire.

The company says there is no connection between the methane in Lipsky's well and their drilling, but scientists shown the results from the water analysis -- specifically one called an isotopic analysis -- say the chemical composition shows they are an exact match to the gas being fracked at two nearby drilling sites -- called Butler and the Teal -- operated by Range Resources.

"The methane and ethane numbers from the Butler and Teal production are essentially exactly the same as from Lipsky's water well,” said earth scientist Geoffrey Thyne of Wyoming, who reviewed the data for WFAA. “It tells me that the gas is the same, and that the gas in Lipsky's water well was derived from the Barnett formation."

And soil scientist Bryce Payne of Pennsylvania -- who himself conducted testing Lipsky's water in 2013 -- agreed with that assessment and told WFAA the gas in Lipsky's water (referred to in the state's report as "well number 8") is clearly the result of fracking operations.

"The gas from well number 8 is coming from the Barnett and it's coming nearly straight from the Barnett," Payne said.

Thyne and Payne separately told WFAA that they believe the test results could represent the nation's first conclusive link between fracking and aquifer contamination, even if the state commission has so far refused to acknowledge the weight of the evidence.

"What we seem to have here is the first good example that that, in fact, is happening,” said Thyne.

Watch the entire WFAA report here.

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