As reported in last week’s cover story (“Range Wars,” Dec. 25, 2013), the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 issued an emergency order to Range Resources Corp., finding that the company had contaminated the Parker County water wells of Steve Lipsky and others. That order was later rescinded by the EPA. But U.S. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma asked the agency’s inspector general to initiate an investigation into the action against Range, claiming it was politically motivated by the Obama administration.
The inspector general’s report was released Dec. 24. The report makes it clear that the EPA’s Region 6 was justified in issuing its emergency order, while simultaneously questioning why Region 6 later withdrew it. EPA officials claimed they backed off because the agency wasn’t certain it could win the case in court and noted that the agency had ordered Range to monitor the quality of well water in the area — an order the agency considered sufficient to protect local water supplies. Evidently it wasn’t; the IG’s report also recommends that the Region 6 administrator look over Range’s shoulder in that monitoring process because the company’s testing procedures are questionable.
Sharon Wilson, Texas representative of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, noted on her Bluedaze blog that if there was any political motivation on the part of the Obama administration it was not in getting the EPA to go after Range in Parker County, but in getting the EPA to back off — as the agency has also done in both Wyoming and Pennsylvania — so that the EPA would not be in a position to prove that gas well fracking contaminates water wells. Because if they did that the whole industry might have to clean up the way it does its fracking business.