Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Public Citizen -- along with more than 80 other groups from across the country -- are calling on the EPA Inspector General to investigate the agency's withdrawal from legal action against a company accused of contaminating a water well through its fracking operations in Parker County, just outside of Weatherford.
Range Resources, a natural gas producer, was hit with an endangerment order from the EPA in December 2010 -- the first of its kind in Texas -- accusing the company of contaminating Steve Lipsky's well with dangerous levels of benzene and explosive methane gas. The homeowner was literally able to ignite water coming from a spigot on his wellhead.
Then, in March 2012, the agency withdrew the order without explanation, except to say that Range had agreed to further well-water testing. The company, for its part, has said the EPA realized its case was weak. The EPA has remained mum, though one of its own scientists wrote that more testing would be needed to prove the contamination conclusively.
Lipsky was left swinging in the breeze, fighting off a defamation suit from a multi-billion dollar company.
According to the letter to the Inspector General, the groups say recent revelations call into question the agency's motives for withdrawing the order against Range. As we mentioned last month, a report surfaced from an independent scientist brought on by the agency, concluding the gas in Steve Lipsky's water well was similar to Range's gas.
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And this month, EnergyWire uncovered emails indicating former Pennsylvania Governor and Democratic National Committee head Ed Rendell interceded with former EPA chief Lisa Jackson on Range's behalf, urging her to settle the case. Range's Matt Pitzarella has denied that Rendell ever acted as a spokesman for the company.
As the drumbeat to end litigation grew louder in early 2012, former regional EPA administrator Al Armendariz began leaning on Range to ease up on its state court battle with Lipsky, including the subpoenas it had filed against Sharon Wilson, a blogger and anti-fracking organizer frequently critical of the company.
In March 2012, EPA withdrew litigation, announcing a "joint effort" to test nearby water wells. The agency offered no explanation for the apparent reversal of its position, more than a year after it accused Range of endangering life and property.
The environmental groups are now demanding to know whether EPA concealed evidence that pointed to contamination caused by Range, and whether it folded under political pressure.