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EPA Followed Rules in Texas Contamination Case, Review Finds

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Region 6 followed the rules three years ago when it issued an emergency order against Range Resources Corp., alleging that its Barnett Shale drilling activities caused methane contamination of water wells, according to recent findings of EPA's Office of Inspector General.

At the time, the EPA allegations contradicted separate findings of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), which said Range did not contaminate drinking water wells (see Shale Daily, Jan. 20, 2011; Dec. 9, 2010).

The EPA Region 6 emergency order against Range was later withdrawn in what was seen as a victory for the company and for Texas regulators, who had been outspoken critics of what they considered to be federal government overreach in the matter (see Daily GPI, April 2, 2012).

The Inspector General's report noted that there are no laws or guidance governing decisions to withdraw such an order and said "...EPA used its discretion in withdrawing the emergency order." The agency and Range had agreed for the latter to test 20 water wells every three months for a year to provide information about the presence of more widespread contamination.

"According to EPA, the sampling that Range Resources has completed indicates no widespread methane contamination of concern in the wells that were sampled in Parker County [TX]," the Inspector General said. "However, the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination."

The Inspector General had recommended that EPA Region 6 assess the quality of the data provided by Range and determine whether "an imminent and substantial endangerment still exists at the original residential well involved." The agency was also directed to inform area residents of the investigation's status, work with the RRC on any corrective action and document the cost and resources expended to complete the recommendations. In its report issued last week, the Inspector General wrote that EPA had followed all of these recommendations.

"All recommendations are resolved with corrective actions under way," the office said. "No final response to this report is required."

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