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EPA Official: Range 'May' Have Contaminated Wells

February 1, 2011
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Range Resources Corp. came away from its deposition last week of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer -- who investigated alleged contamination of North Texas water wells by the company -- touting more than a dozen revelations that the company says support its claim of innocence. And Range is going back to get more information from additional depositions of EPA officials.

Last Tuesday EPA deposed John Blevins, EPA Region 6 director of compliance assurance and enforcement, for the better part of the day. In a summary of the 327-page transcript of the deposition Range said, "EPA admits that it does not understand how gas is migrating into the Lipsky or Hayley water wells and that it issued the Dec. 7 order to force Range to gather data to answer that question."

In the deposition Blevins testified, "...the issuance of our order was not predicated on understanding the pathway" that gas took to get into the water wells.

"And, in fact, you didn't understand the pathway and you still don't understand the pathway, correct?" asked a Range attorney.

"That was not what we needed to issue the order on," said Blevins.

Further, Range's summary of the deposition asserts that "EPA admits that Range may not have caused or contributed to the natural gas in the Lipsky water well, and contrary to conclusion 46 in its Dec. 7 order, will say under oath only that Range may have caused or contributed to natural gas in the Lipsky water well."

Range's attorney from the transcript: EPA "...has not conclusively determined that Range has -- Range's activities have caused or contributed to natural gas in the Lipsky water well; is that correct?"

Blevins: "We have used the word may. I did not use the word did cause or contribute, we used the word may. I think it speaks for itself."

In December EPA issued an emergency order against Range, claiming that its gas drilling operations in the Barnett Shale contaminated two water wells in the area (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2010). Range has fought the assertion from the start and claims that natural gas found in the wells came from the Strawn formation, which is near the water wells, and is not the result of its gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Jan. 25).

As the company's lawyers put it in Range's motion seeking two more depositions of EPA scientists: "EPA heard hoof beats and thought zebras, not horses, and Range is entitled to demonstrate this flawed analysis to the Railroad Commission [of Texas (RRC)]."

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Judge Lee Yeakel has granted Range's motion to depose EPA scientists Chris Lister and Jerry Saunders for up to three hours each on Feb. 11.

When EPA issued its December order the RRC was already investigating allegations of water well contamination by Range. The RRC objected to the EPA stepping into the case and set a hearing on its investigation, inviting EPA to participate. However, the federal agency was a no-show (see Shale Daily, Jan. 21; Jan. 20). Range sought to depose EPA officials in order to add their testimony to the RRC case file, which remains open. Range also is fighting EPA's order in federal court.

According to Range, one of the agency's own scientists, environmental chemist Doug Beak, told EPA officials he couldn't compare gas fingerprinting and compositional data on which EPA was relying to make its case against Range.

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