The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn the "imminent and substantial endangerment order" that it issued against Range Resources Corp. in December 2010 for alleged methane contamination of water wells in North Texas.
EPA had alleged that Range's drilling and production activities in the Barnett Shale had contaminated at least two drinking water wells (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2010). However, Range vigorously fought the allegations, challenging them in court (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1, 2011).
"Range is very pleased to see that the EPA's order in Parker County [TX] has been withdrawn," the company said. "It's important for people to know that their environment, health and safety is protected and hopefully this provides them with that comfort."
On the company's side during its battle with the EPA was the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), which said its own investigation had found that methane in the water wells had come from a gas-bearing formation other than the one targeted by Range (see Shale Daily, March 9, 2011; Feb. 10, 2011).
RRC Chairman Barry Smitherman said Friday, "By dropping their court case and enforcement actions, EPA now acknowledges what we at the Railroad Commission have known for more than a year: Range Resources' Parker County gas wells did not contaminate groundwater. This announcement is a vindication of the science-based processes at the Railroad Commission."
RRC Commissioner David Porter said, "The EPA's withdrawal of the emergency order against Range Resources upholds the Railroad Commission Final Order that I signed concluding that Range is not responsible for any water contamination in Parker County. Al Armanderiz and the EPA's Region Six office are guilty of fear mongering, gross negligence and severe mishandling of this case. I hope to see drastic changes made in the way the regional office conducts business in the future -- starting with the termination of Al Armanderiz. Today's decision reflects my long-standing position that the EPA and the Obama administration should stay out of regulatory matters in Texas and let us remain in charge of protecting our own natural resources."
EPA said that resolving the litigation with Range allows the agency to shift its focus in the case "away from litigation and towards a joint effort on the science and safety of energy extraction. EPA and Range will share scientific data and conduct further well monitoring in the area, and Range will also provide useful information and access to EPA in support of EPA's scientific inquiry into the potential impacts of energy extraction on drinking water."
Last February the 43rd Judicial District Court in Texas sided with Range in denying a motion by Steven and Shyla Lipsky to dismiss a countersuit filed against them by Range (see Shale Daily, July 20, 2011) over their claims of water well contamination (see Shale Daily, Feb. 21). Range said the couple, under the guidance of an environmental consultant, had attached a garden hose to a gas vent in order to create an inflammatory display for news media.
"This demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning," wrote presiding judge Trey E. Loftin.
The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) said the EPA's dismissal of its order was appropriate because there was no link between Range operations and water contamination. "As part of this case, the RRC conducted an investigation more than a year ago and concluded that Range Resources did not contaminate the water wells. TXOGA is encouraged that science appears to have prevailed in this instance at the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's dismissal of this order against Range Resources also validates the Texas Railroad Commission's nearly 100-year legacy of effective regulation of the oil and gas industry."