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Former EPA Chief Al Armendariz Said Frackers Lit a Well on Fire, So the Frackers Lawyered Up

Al Armendariz, as imagined by Range Resources chief counsel David Poole.
Al Armendariz, as imagined by Range Resources chief counsel David Poole.

Range Resources, a company that fracks shale formations across America, wants controversial former EPA regional chief Al Armendariz to shut up about what happened in Parker County. The company's lawyer sent him a letter recently insisting that "(he) cease from making further false and disparaging comments against Range."

Armendariz spoke at a recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Lubbock. He told attendees he had not seen any evidence to contradict an EPA finding that Range's fracking activities contaminated a nearby water well -- a claim that's at the center of a lengthy fight between the EPA, Range, the Texas Railroad Commission and a man whose well turned to fire.

If you'll recall, a Parker County man's well began drawing huge amounts of gas, so much that he could light a hose attached to the head space of the well and ignite a guttering tongue of fire. Armendariz's EPA investigators conducted testing and discovered levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, above drinking-water standards. Gas wells owned by Range Resources were determined to be the source. The Railroad Commission of Texas, when contacted by the EPA, said more testing was needed.

The agency moved forward with an endangerment order against Range -- the first of its kind in the history of Texas oil and gas. The Railroad Commission, at a hearing where only Range experts testified, later exonerated the company, which is currently suing the Parker County man.

EPA later withdrew its endangerment order against Range. It was never clear whether the agency became convinced it got the case wrong, or if it simply decided to put an end to litigation with Range. Either way, Range agreed to conduct testing of surrounding water wells for a year. Armendariz later resigned after Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe circulated a years-old video of the administrator discussing his deterrent approach to enforcement.

His comments at the conference shed just a little light on EPA's decision to withdraw its order against Range: "The best available data that I was presented by my staff indicated that the driller's [Range's] natural gas was ending up in a private drinking water well. ... I've not seen, and when I withdrew our enforcement action I didn't see, anything to the contrary. ... But we do live in a very litigious society. It had been in court for more than a year going on two. I felt a better course of action would be to talk to Range about a potential settlement where we would withdraw our enforcement action and they would commit to doing additional monitoring in Parker County."

I wrote a long story a while back about Steve Lipsky's flaming well. You can read the letter in its entirety here.

H/T Texas Sharon


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