Finally a piece of good news and an intelligent decision has come from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)! It has taken them more than a year, but in the end even the EPA had to accept scientific fact. Recently, the EPA vacated an emergency order from December 2010 prohibiting Fort Worth-based Range Resources from pumping natural gas from two wells in Parker County, Texas.
In the EPA’s original 2010 order, it accused Range (without any evidence, mind you) of contaminating drinking water in Parker County with methane gas, allegedly caused by hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale. The Texas Railroad Commission, the oldest regulatory body in the State of Texas, invited the EPA and the owners of the affected wells to a January 2011 hearing on the issue. Neither the EPA nor the supposedly affected well owners showed up. (No doubt they did not want to be confused by the facts or by real science). The hearing proceeded as scheduled, however, with scientific experts in the oil and gas field testifying. These experts can determine the geochemical gas fingerprint of a substance like methane that identifies where the gas originates.
The scientific evidence conclusively showed that the methane found in the drinking water was from a shallower Strawn gas field and not from fracing in the Barnett Shale by Range Resources. The sample did not match the fingerprint of Barnett Shale gas, which is more than 5,000 feet below the surface. Range Resources staff also testified that their gas wells were mechanically sound and that there were no leaks. After considering the evidence, the Railroad Commission found that Range Resources’ drilling had not caused the contamination in the water wells. Despite this decision and the solid scientific evidence behind it, the EPA stood by its 751 page Emergency Order and continued with its case against Range. The conflict ended up in federal court. It took another 14 months of grasping at straws and stalling for the EPA to admit they never had a valid case. While it is frustrating that the legal fight had to drag on at all, I guess those of us in the oil and gas industry should at least be glad that the EPA finally admitted its error, rather than continuing to waste more taxpayer money and time on pointless litigation.
In applauding this long overdue admission by the EPA, Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman said, “By dropping their court case and the enforcement actions, EPA now acknowledges what we at the Railroad Commission have known for more than a year: Range Resources’ Parker County gas wells did not contaminate groundwater.” Fellow Commissioner David Porter went further, saying, “Today the EPA finally made a decision based on science and fact versus playing politics with the Texas economy.” Mr. Porter also made a statement that many Texans whole-heartedly agree with: “Today’s decision reflects my longstanding position that the EPA and the Obama administration should stay out of regulatory matters in Texas and let us remain in charge of protecting our own natural resources.”
One could hope that the EPA has seen the light and will stop the campaign against the oil and gas industry. Their about-face on Range Resources shows that even the EPA can’t ignore science forever. But with so much political posturing going on, especially in an election year, it is unlikely that the EPA and the current administration will give up their position as the refuge of the poorly trained, the unscientific and the ill-informed any time soon! Seriously, I realize there are some good folks at the EPA, but whoever had anything to do with this particular proceeding are not among them.
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