Texas Regulator: Drilling By Range Resources Didn’t Cause Water Contamination


NEW YORK – (Dow Jones) – Texas regulators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remained at odds Tuesday when the state oil and gas regulator said natural gas drilling wasn’t the cause of contamination discovered in a pair of drinking water wells last year.

The Texas Railroad Commission said Tuesday that Range Resources Corp.’s (RRC) natural gas drilling operations weren’t responsible for contamination found in water wells in Parker County, outside of Fort Worth, contradicting previous findings by the EPA.

The EPA in December said that Range was responsible for the presence of gas in the wells, saying the concentration posed “an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire” and ordering the company to take steps to protect area homeowners and investigate nearby natural gas operations. Residents who lived near gas-producing wells owned by Range had complained of “flammable and bubbling drinking water” beginning in late August, the EPA said at the time.

The EPA reiterated its findings Tuesday, saying in a statement that it stands by its order.

“The decision by the Texas Railroad Commission is not supported by EPA’s independent, scientific investigation,” the agency said in a statement.

The Texas commission disagreed.

“We used science, facts and due process in handling this case and found that Range Resources was not responsible for any water contamination in Parker County, contrary to what the EPA said,” Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter said in a statement.

Range has said it wasn’t the source of the contamination and it has worked with regulators to address concerns about drinking water contamination in the area. A Range spokesman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Texas Railroad Commission said Tuesday that based on evidence presented at a January hearing, Range’s operations in the area were sound and that the natural gas found in the wells didn’t match gas from the company’s natural gas wells. EPA representatives didn’t testify at the hearing, which Porter said ” proves the political nature of their stance.”

The disagreement comes amid heightened concerns about the potential for growing U.S. natural gas drilling activity to result in contamination to drinking water or other public health hazards.

Much of the worry centers on hydraulic fracturing, a well completion technique used to access the gas and oil held in shale rock formations deep underground. The procedure involves pumping a mix of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up the rock and release the gas held within.

The EPA’s findings in December were the first time the federal regulator had linked a shale drilling operation to public health dangers.

The oil and gas industry says the practice doesn’t pose a risk to the environment when done properly, but opponents have argued that the process should be the subject of further study.

The EPA is investigating the effects of fracturing on groundwater and is scheduled to release preliminary findings next year.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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