Range Resources doesn’t limit its aggressiveness to homeowners and others who feel the company’s work has affected them. Trillium Asset Management LLC, of Boston, bills itself as “the oldest independent advisor devoted exclusively to sustainable and responsible investing.” Until recently, a company spokesperson said, Trillium had a substantial investment in Range Resources.
“We invested because we thought it was a prudent investment in natural gas at the time,” senior vice president Jonas Kron told the Weekly.
During the period in which Trillium held Range stock, the asset managers filed several shareholder proposals in areas it thought Range needed to address.
“These are suggestions, and it’s the way things are done in business — you make proposals,” Kron said. One proposal was that Range invest in equipment that would capture fugitive natural gas that leaks from wells, compressor stations, and other gas facilities. “The technology exists for them to do that, and when we made the proposal, over 21 percent of the Range shareholders who voted yes or no on it voted for our proposal.”
It only made sense, Kron said, because capturing the fugitive methane would produce more gas for Range to sell, while at the same time improving the air quality around Range facilities. “This was not a cost center for these companies,” he said. “This should be a profit center. What shareholder wants their profits disappearing into the atmosphere where they can do harm to humans and simultaneously lose them money on their investment?”
In early 2013, Natasha Lamb, also a Trillium vice president, said, “Leaking gas is a symptom of poor management systems that neglect shareholder value and amplify climate change.”
The equipment Kron and Lamb were talking about would pay for itself in less than three years, according to estimates by the Natural Resource Defense Council.
Range responded in a filing to the SEC, in which the drilling company claimed that Trillium’s proposal “is from a group that appears to have as its primary motive the destruction of shareholder value in companies in the natural gas value chain and are asking Range shareholders to pay for a fishing expedition to gather data to use against Range and the industry in what appears to be part of the overall tactic of a small group of activist organizations to attack the responsible development of fossil fuels.”
When Range declined to adopt the proposal, Trillium removed the company from its “buy list” of stocks. A Trillium statement described Range’s disclosures about fugitive methane as “woefully inadequate.”
In October, Trillium sold all of its interest in Range.
Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resource Defense Council, said her organization has had no direct dealings with Range, but “We have had dealings with a lot of people who live near Range facilities in both Pennsylvania and Texas who are not happy.”
Range and the other oil and gas companies, Mall said, “have been granted the unusual privilege to operate this heavy industrial business in people’s backyards. They’ve also been given loopholes in our environmental laws. And they are abusing those privileges.”
Mall said the NRDC sent a letter to the EPA in February, asking that the agency investigate the drinking water in Parker County near the Lipsky property because “underground sources of drinking water in Parker County … appear to remain contaminated and may still pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons. We have not received a reply as yet,” she said.
Railroad Commission spokesperson Ramona Nye said the NRDC’s request to the EPA had not changed the state agency’s stance on the Lipsky case. She wrote that “the Commission staff at this time has no plans to revisit the final order, which is based on science and facts.”
Many of the people contacted for this story declined to talk to the Weekly — some because they had signed confidentiality agreements, some because they’re in litigation, and several because they fear litigation with Range. But Ron Gulla, one of those most directly affected by the drilling company, did talk.
“Some people love Range because they see those royalty checks coming in. But a lot of people, like me, had their lives destroyed by Range. My stock pond went bad and it was just 150 feet below the flow pits Range put up. They don’t want to take responsibility. People are losing cattle, and Range says, ‘No, that’s not us.’ They bring in their filthy nonsterilized trucks and equipment, and the next thing you know, we’ve got invasive species in our water. And when you check where that equipment came from? Right from where those species live. But it’s just a coincidence they wind up here, isn’t it?”
Gulla said that over time his farm became an industrialized wasteland. “They were going to put up a few vertical wells. I was going to get free gas. I was working my ass off developing my farm, and I had to sit back and watch as Range just destroyed it. They say they’re good neighbors, but I never had a neighbor treat me like this in my life.”
He eventually received a $1.5 million settlement from Range in exchange for his property, along with the demand that he get off the land in two weeks.
“I didn’t want the money. I wanted my life back. I wanted another piece of property, but I can’t buy around here because everything’s leased, and I don’t want to go from one mess to another,” he said. Gulla settled on moving with his family to his mom’s home just 11 miles away from his farm.
Despite receiving a large settlement, he said, he never signed a confidentiality agreement. “If they tried to get me to sign one, I would have shoved that pen up their asses. That’s how I was raised,” he said.
He said he can’t be specific about certain elements in his case because he is still in litigation with Range. “I can tell you that they ruined my wife and kids’ lives. The sleepless nights, the stress, the quality of our lives. Range doesn’t want to talk about it. But that’s what they took away. My kids, seven and eight, were going to have ponies on a farm. Now they can’t. I take my kids to a restaurant, my boy asks if it’s safe to drink the water or is it drilling water. That rips your guts out. I beat myself up for ever signing that lease.”
But Gulla does see a silver lining, if not for himself then for others. “The lawsuits are piling up against these drillers like pancakes. And at least one of them, too big for anyone to talk about, is going to bring Range down.”
Calvin Tillman, who co-founded ShaleTest with Ruggiero, thinks Range’s arrogance will bring it down.
“I was on a panel with Range’s general counsel, and when he was introduced, he wanted to know why I was there. His wife later threatened to sue me. Just recently they tried to subpoena me again for information about a case in Pennsylvania. And I think that behavior is costing them in the long run. All the other independent gas companies have been bought up or are being bought up. Range was a good prospect at one time. But because of the way they do business, I don’t think anyone wants to deal with them.”
Ruggiero said that he’s been reading a book lately called Absolute Honesty. “In the very first chapter, the author tells the story of the Tylenol scare in the early 1980s, when someone was poisoning the medicine on the shelf in Chicago and seven people died.
“You know what Johnson & Johnson did? They owned it. They didn’t do it, but they owned it,” Ruggiero said. All of the Tylenol in the U.S. was pulled from the shelves, costing Johnson & Johnson more than $100 million; they lost market share, and their stock dropped.
“But when they reintroduced the product, they came back, and Tylenol became the number-one pain reliever in the world. That was because the public had faith that the company was being honest.”
The oil and gas companies should learn something from that, he said. “If those companies would own up to their problems and fix them, instead of denying their responsibility — or in Range’s case, going after the people who got hurt — they would be way ahead of where they are in the public view. And they’d probably save money addressing the issues rather than paying lawyers and PR people to defend them and spin them.”