EPA, North Texas driller headed for face-off

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 11:39 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 15 at 12:33 AM

FORT WORTH - The Environmental Protection Agency could be headed for a showdown with a natural gas driller.

The EPA gave Range Resources until midnight Tuesday to come up with a plan to test all water wells within 3,000 feet of wellbore tracks from the drilling site. The site, the agency says, contaminated two southern Parker County water wells. The order also required a plan to test all the wells in nearby Lake Country Acres, a public water system.

Tuesday evening, Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella told WFAA that will not happen.

“We would have to intrude upon every resident within 3,000 feet and potentially have to disconnect their water service,” Pitzarella said.

Instead, Range said soil sampling results will dictate which water wells need testing, and that Range will perform testing for homeowners who make requests.

EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz spoke with WFAA just hours before the deadline.

“We do intend to enforce the order," he said. "And if we find they are not complying with any of the elements, if they're complying with the elements late, they are certainly subject to penalties from us and referral to the Department of Justice."

“We're going to be cooperative, but it's our position at this point that they don't have the legal authority or the regulatory authority to get involved in the middle of an investigation or the middle of a process,” Pitzarella said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas is also involved in the case. The EPA issued its order after it said the RRC failed to take adequate action.

Range Resources said its activities did not cause the contamination, and pointed to a natural gas formation near the aquifer as a likely source.

“We think the EPA samples are not thorough enough to reach the conclusions that they have,” Pitzarella said.

However, when asked if he had any doubt as to whether Range is responsible for the contamination, Armendariz responded, “No, EPA scientists and engineers have looked extensively at a lot of data and we're confident that Range is responsible for this natural gas in the drinking water aquifer and we've ordered them to take the necessary steps to stop it.”

The EPA said not using the plumbing systems at the contaminated sites should greatly reduce the potential for explosion, but the agency is still concerned natural gas could be getting close to the homes through the soil.

Range Resources has installed methane monitors in both homes identified in the EPA’s order, and says so far readings have been safe at zero.

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