Range Resources Corp. Tuesday was cleared of fouling North Texas water wells with natural gas by a unanimous vote of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). It was vindication for the Fort Worth, TX-based producer and an informal indictment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- not that anyone from the federal agency was at the meeting in Austin, TX, to hear it.
The three commissioners accepted an RRC staff recommendation to find Range not at fault for natural gas found in two North Texas water wells (see Daily GPI, March 9). The RRC staff investigation found that gas in the wells most likely came from the shallower Strawn formation and not the Barnett -- an explanation widely held for months by the energy industry.
"Every scientist and technical expert who has examined the facts have all determined that Range did not cause or contribute to this issue, including those at the EPA," said Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella on Tuesday. "Through science and investigation we also know that nearby families are safe and with fresh drinking water. We will continue to respect the legal process and expect the EPA to rescind their order now that there is definitive scientific evidence of the natural cause and safety of residents. Of course, state regulators and local residents knew this all along."
Last December EPA issued a finding that Range's Barnett Shale activities had tainted the wells, and in an emergency order it demanded that the company take a number of precautionary and remediation measures (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9, 2010). EPA's conclusion that Range was at fault leapfrogged findings of the RRC, which had previously begun an investigation of the matter at the behest of landowners. EPA's involvement was seen by the Texas regulators as another example of the federal government attempting to usurp the regulatory sovereignty of the Lone Star State.
At the RRC's bimonthly conference it took commissioners 28 minutes to hear the presentation of the Range case findings, discuss the matter and vote. There were accolades for Range for its "aggressive defense" and condemnation for EPA for its "hasty determination" of the company's guilt. Commissioners noted EPA's absence at the meeting as well as the fact that it did not participate in the RRC hearing process on the Range matter.
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