This marks the third high profile misstep by the Environmental Protection Agency that has come to light in 2012:
On Dec. 7, 2010, the EPA publicly accused Range of causing natural gas to seep into water wells near some of its gas wells in north Texas. The agency largely based its decision on an analysis that compared the chemical makeup of the gas in Range’s production wells and the gas found in private water wells, concluding they matched.
The EPA bypassed the Texas Railroad Commission, which it said failed to address an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to public health. It ordered Range to supply water to the affected residents, identify how gas was migrating into the aquifer, stop the flow and clean up the water.
After the EPA sued Range for not complying with its order, Range appealed, arguing that the agency’s analysis was inconclusive. It pointed to nearby water wells that were known to contain high concentrations of gas long before it began drilling.
The railroad agency, which regulates oil and gas, concluded last year that gas most likely seeped into the aquifer from a shallow pocket of gas nearby, not the Barnett Shale, thousands of feet underground, from which Range was producing gas.
On Friday, the commission accused the EPA of “fear mongering, gross negligence and severe mishandling” of the case, calling for the firing of Al Armendariz, administrator of the region that covers Texas. The EPA would not make Mr. Armendariz available for an interview, and he did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
This is important. As a federal agency, the EPA has a loud megaphone which it has used to attack the industry, despite what seems to be significant evidence suggesting that the natural gas industry was not responsible. Public perception matters a great deal, and if a significant number of Americans are under the impression that hydraulic fracturing is incredibly dangerous, or that the potential for chemicals to leak into the water supply is high, then they are going to demand regulations that hinder or shut down the industry. If it turns out that the EPA is indeed incorrect in this case, then its hard not to agree that they are guilty of “fear mongering, [and] gross negligence.” Even if they are correct, it sounds like further study of the area would have been appropriate.