Fracking update: The bad news is gaining legs

Posted by Christine, February 25, 2013

From dedicated blogger Sharon Wilson in Texas:

Mike Soraghan, reporter for E&E, continues to dig in and connect dots on the Range Resources water contamination case in Parker County. Suddenly the actual facts about this case have become the focus instead of all the political posturing.

I have been writing about this case from the beginning, when the EPA stepped in with an Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order after the Texas Railroad Commission messed around for 4 months and failed to take action. Early on and ongoing, I connected many of the dots and for my efforts I was harassed by a billion-dollar corporation that “embraces” its reputation for bullying and intimidation. Brantley Hargrove dug through court documents and connected more dots in his story: How One Man’s Flaming Water Fired Up a Battle Between Texas and the EPA: Steve Lipsky’s epic battle and what it means for the future of fracking. And Brett Shipp vindicated Steve Lipsky when his report, Welcome to his nightmare: Flaming well water, shows that his video was not deceptive.

EPA officials ignored engineer’s theory in Range contamination case
Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter
EnergyWire: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Please read the EE story.

My favorite part:

Records show Range encased its two wells down 394 feet and 409 feet, while Devon cemented its nearby wells to 1,005 feet or more.

“I’m thinking maybe Range should have looked to see how were other operators completing their wells,” Richter said. But he acknowledged under questioning that the records didn’t indicate why they were cemented deeper.

Maybe the reason other operators cemented deeper is because, as the Range attorney Andy Sims admitted at the Plea to Jurisdiction hearing,:

…he elaborated at length how “abundantly clear” it is that the area has “angular and nonconforming and unpredictable geology” with many natural pathways for gas to migrate.

If they knew these problems exist in the area, why didn’t they case the wells to a deeper depth?

Today’s Star-Telegram blog post about this case quotes Range spokesman, Matt Pitzarella:

Pitzarella points out that the EPA and the confidential report cited by the Associated Press both said the gas in Lipsky’s well came from the Barnett, while Richter’s says it came from other formations. They can’t both be right, he said.

Range claims the gas in Lipsky’s well is not from the Barnett Shale but their expert witness, Mark McCaffrey said:

The commissioners ignored the fact that from roughly 400 feet below the surface to more than 4,000 feet, Range’s well was uncemented, exposed to thousands of feet of gas-bearing earth above the shale. Somehow, Richter believed, that gas had seeped up Range’s well and ultimately into Lipsky’s water.

Under questioning by commission examiners, McCaffrey admitted that he hadn’t considered that possibility. He also conceded that the gas sample the EPA collected from Lipsky’s well was so similar to Range’s that it was all but impossible to separate them. Source

You can’t have it both ways.

I have a few comments to add.

  • The EPA TOLD Lipsky, and the whole world, that Range contaminated his well and that is why he sued them.
  • According to Lipsky, the regulatory agencies and Range filled up their gas sample bags from the hose that was attached to the Lipsky well at the gas vent so they all knew that hose was not hooked up to the water. Why did none of those agencies stepped forward with this information when Range sued Lipsky?
  • The Bradenhead pressure was exceeded on the Butler well. That indicates a leak in the casing. It seems there is a lot of gas that suddenly starts bubbling up after fracking. I remember lighting bubbles on fire in the Ruggiero horse pasture. In that case, there was a Bradenhead pressure leak of 40psi on one well and 60 psi on another. There is gas bubbling up in Divide Creek Seep where there was also a Bradenhead leak.

Then, this sequence of hearings set things up so that Lipsky never got to present his evidence in court.

  1. The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) hearing where they ruled that Lipsky was not a party to the hearing where the RRC Commissioners ruled on whether Range was responsible for the water contamination.
  2. The RRC hearing where they exonerated Range. (Commissioner Elizabeth Ames-Jones had a conflict of interest and should have recused herself.)
  3. The Plea to Jurisdiction hearing where the activist judge, Loftin, ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the Lipsky case.

Soraghan’s report quoted from the Larry Peck deposition. I want to add a few things from that deposition. (Peck drilled the Lipsky water well.)

  • Larry Peck has been drilling and servicing water wells since 1969 in Parker, Wise, Tarrant, Hood, and Palo Pinto Counties.
  • In 2005, Peck drilled the Hurst #1 water well that flared gas. A picture of this well flaring has been widely distributed. The well owner is in the gas drilling business and decided it was a pocket of gas so he vented the well. (I read that the gas dissipated after a couple of months.)
  • The Oujesky well was drilledNovember 11, 2007, and it produced a small about of gas. It was not flared at the time.
  • When asked if he has any other pictures from any other wells he has drilled, Peck replied that he didn’t have any reason to make any pictures of them. “Wasn’t any gas in them.”
  • Peck never said gas was a common occurrence in area water wells as the Powell Newsletter claimed. Peck requested they make a correction and reprint. “I never said that and if you’ll find there is a reprint on that newsletter.” (I never saw the reprint.)
  • The Lipsky well was drilled in April 2005 “I might add there wasn’t any gas in that well at the time I drilled it.” There were no problems with the Lipsky well until 2010.
  • The Community of Authon had a 300’ water well that flared gas in the late 70’s to early 80’s. The RRC found a gas well within a mile was leaking at the Bradenhead.
  • The Authon well was similar to the Lipsky well because initially there was no gas in Authon well. During the completion stage, then gas started coming into the well. The RRC found a gas well nearly a mile away with that was leaking at the Bradenhead. The owners of the gas well replugged and recemented. Then the gas stopped in he water well.
  • Peck has seen a pattern since fracking where people who didn’t have gas in their water suddenly having gas. Peck blames fracking and not enough surface casing.
  • They don’t do much fracking with water wells because it cracks the casing.
  • It’s funny we’ve never hit them before as many wells as I’ve drilled.

This all fascinates me.

Update: I failed to mention that Range has a history of failed casings.  HERE is where I blogged about that previously.

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