On December 20, the Office of Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency issued its “Response to Congressional Inquiry Regarding the EPA’s Emergency Order to the Range Resources Gas Drilling Company.” The report was requested by Congress as a result of an emergency order issued by the Dallas regional office of the EPA against Range Resources on December 7, 2010. That order required Range to take certain actions based on EPA’s finding that Range’s wells in the Barnett Shale were the likely source of contamination of water wells in Parker County.
I have written about Range’s saga before. EPA sued Range to enforce its emergency order. Range disputed and fought the EPA order, suing in the U.S. Court of Appeals to get the order revoked. Range called a hearing before the Texas Railroad Commission (in which EPA did not participate), after which the RRC found that Range’s wells were not the source of the gas in the water wells. One of the well owners, the Lipskys, sued Range in state court for damages; Range countersued, contending that the Lipskys had falsified evidence and defamed the company. The district court found that Lipsky had created a “deceptive video” that was “calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning.” The Lispkys have appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, where their case remainds pending.
The EPA and Range eventually settled their dispute, Range agreeing to conduct tests of 20 water wells in the area every 3 months for a year. Those tests showed no methane contamination of the water wells.
The Range-EPA fight led to the resignation of the Dallas regional admnistrator of the EPA, Dr. Al Armendariz, after he was videoed saying that, because of the limited number of staff in his office, his enforcment approach is to act like the Romans: “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.” His actions were criticized in Congress, leading to a congressional request that the Office of Inspector General investigate EPA’s actions in the Range matter.
The OIG’s report vindicates EPA’s actions. If found that the EPA’s actions “conformed to agency guidlines, regulations and policy.” It also found that “the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination.”
A large part of the controversy concerned the EPA’s “isotopic fingerprinting and compositional analysis” of the gas in the Lipskys’ well, from which EPA concluded that the methane came from the Barnett Shale. In Parker County, the principal aquifer lies just above a shallow formation that contains methane, and water wells will become contaminated with that methane if they are drilled through the aquifer into the shallow gas sands. Range’s evidence at the RRC hearing showed that EPA’s “isotopic” analysis was flawed and that the gas in the Lipskys’ well was not from the Barnett Shale. Range’s evidence for the source of the gas is not mentioned in the OIG report.
Armendariz, now employed by Sierra Club, said that the OIG report is “complete and total vindication of the work we did at EPA.” Lipsky continues to believe that Range is responsible for contamination of his well: “The holding tanks [for well water] in people’s garages are going to explode and I don’t care where it’s coming from, someone is going to get killed,” he said.