Pennsylvania

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Environmentalists Call on EPA to Revisit Range Contamination Case

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A drill rig rises above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Dozens of environmental groups have written to the EPA’s inspector general, asking him to investigate how and why the EPA dropped its legal action against Range Resources in a Texas water contamination case. Last week, EnergyWire reported that former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had intervened on the company’s behalf. Last month, a report by the Associated Press revealed the agency ignored a report by an independent researcher, which said the contamination may have been caused by gas drilling. The AP also reported that Range Resources pressured the EPA to drop their case against the company, or face no cooperation on its national fracking study.

The EPA’s role in the methane migration case in Parker County, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, began in 2010. That’s when the EPA took the unusual step of intervening in a case overseen by state officials, saying Texas environmental regulators failed to protect residents from high levels of explosive methane.

The EPA regional administrator at the time, Al Armendariz, issued an emergency order, forcing Range to provide clean drinking water. While the Texas Railroad Commission exonerated Range from causing the methane leak, EPA region 6 continued its action against the natural gas company. The EPA withdrew all legal actions against Range in the Parker County case in March 2012.

Led by Earthworks and the Environmental Working Group, more than 80 groups have signed on to the letter, including more than a dozen grassroots groups from Pennsylvania. They asked the inspector general Arthur A. Elkins, Jr. several questions, including:

• Did the EPA have a scientific basis for withdrawing its emergency order and rescinding its legal action against Range Resources?

• Did the EPA improperly yield to pressure from the gas industry or other sources, including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, in withdrawing its legal action against Range Resources?

• Why did the EPA make no mention of Geoffrey Thyne’s independent scientific analysis in the face of drilling industry criticism of EPA’s scientific integrity?

Gov. Rendell tells StateImpact that he did speak to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about the case, but downplayed his role.

“I visited EPA in 2011 to discuss a number of issues with Administrator Lisa Jackson and her staff,” wrote Rendell in an email. “I was made aware of the EPA’s enforcement action against Range Resources prior to my meeting and suggested to EPA staff that a settlement could lead to increased cooperation between EPA regulators and the industry.  I was not authorized by Range Resources to make a settlement proposal, nor did I offer one.”

Rendell did not receive any direct campaign contributions from Range Resources, according to MarcellusMoney.org, which tracks gas drilling related political donations. But he did take almost $200,000 in campaign contributions from the gas industry in 2006, during his re-election bid. The ShaleReporter points out that there could be another connection.

Significant to how Rendell became a liaison to Range Resources was his former aide, Kenneth Scott Roy, who served as chief liaison between the governor’s office and the industry. Roy became the vice president of regulations and government Affairs for— you guessed it—Range Resources.

The Texas-based Range Resources drilled the first Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania and with almost 900 currently drilled wells, it’s one of the most active drillers in the state.

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