EPA inquiry finds 2010 action in Texas followed procedures

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 office followed established procedures when it issued an emergency order to a Range Resources Inc. division in Texas in 2010 that it withdrew 2 years later, the agency’s inspector general’s office concluded.

The regional office issued the order on Dec. 7, 2010, for Range to investigate soil and groundwater near a contaminated well in Parker County, Tex., after determining that one of the independent producer’s hydraulically fractured natural gas wells either caused, or contributed to, the contamination.

Range agreed to test 20 nearby water wells every 3 months for a year, the IG’s office said in an investigation it released on Dec. 24. Completed sampling indicated no widespread methane contamination of concern, it indicated.

“However, EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination,” the investigation added.

It recommended that the regional administrator evaluate the testing results Range is providing to determine if they are “of sufficient quality and utility,” determine whether an imminent and substantial endangerment still exists at the original residential well involved, and inform affected residents of the contamination’s status and any actions EPA’s Region 6 office plans.

Further steps

The investigation also recommended that the regional administrator work with the Texas Railroad Commission to assure necessary appropriate actions are taken, and document costs and resources invested to complete the recommendations.

Range is still reviewing the EPA IG office’s report, a spokesman told OGJ by e-mail on Dec. 26.

“Virtually all of the matters in the report and many more were addressed at various points during the [RRC’s] exhaustive and expert investigation, which clearly determined that Range’s activities did not cause or contribute to the long-standing and well-documented matter of naturally occurring methane in the Trinity aquifer,” he said. “We’re pleased that when EPA headquarters examined the facts of the case, they fully withdrew their order.”

But an environmental organization said the investigation showed the regional office was justified in issuing the original emergency order, and charged that it was withdrawn in 2012 under pressure from Washington.

‘Political corruption’

“EPA’s internal watchdog has confirmed that it EPA was justified in stepping in to protect residents who were and still are in imminent danger,” Sharon Wilson, Earthworks’ Gulf Regional Organizer, said on Dec. 24. “Now we need an investigation as to whether political corruption caused EPA to withdraw that protection.”

Steve Everly, of Energy in Depth, a research and public education organization originally launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in a Dec. 26 blog that the EPA IG office’s findings were disturbing because they said the 2010 emergency order then-Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz, who subsequently went to work for the Sierra Club, was not out of line.

“Subsequent investigations proved that the methane did not originate from Range’s operations, that homeowners in the area had methane in their water long before Range’s operations ever began, and that one resident even drilled her water well into a methane-bearing rock formation,” he wrote.

“EPA e-mails and the agency’s own statements under oath showed that the investigation leading to the endangerment order was inadequate, and that basic tests to determine the origin of the gas were not undertaken,” Everly said.

The EPA IG’s office investigated the Region 6 office’s conduct in the matter in response to a 2012 request from US Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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