The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Range Resources Inc. to fix a gas well leak that it said is contaminating water in Texas.
The instruction is the EPA’s first federal action in years against an oil-and-gas operator in the state, said Al Armendariz, an EPA regional administrator who oversees operations in Texas and four other states.
The EPA has the legal authority to investigate groundwater contamination, and typically leaves that job to state regulators, Armendariz said. In this case, the Texas Railroad Commission didn’t do enough, he said.
“This is the first time we’ve used those authorities for an aquifer that has been impacted by oil and gas activity in Texas in recent years,” he said. “It is regrettable the Railroad Commission hasn’t acted up to this point.”
The EPA said Range allowed methane from natural-gas wells in Parker County, west of Fort Worth, to seep into two families’ water wells. The order requires Range to provide safe drinking water for landowners and fix the wells. The company could face a fine of as much as $16,000 a day, David Gray, an EPA spokesman, said.
Range Resources has conducted tests which show that the company is not responsible for the contamination, Matt Pitzarella, a company spokesman, said. The test results have been shared with the EPA, Pitzarella said.
“We don’t believe the methane that is found in that water has any connection to our activities, not only in that well but in nearby wells,” Pitzarella said.
Range, based in Fort Worth, Texas, has operations in the state’s Barnett Shale field and is one of the largest leaseholders in the Marcellus Shale, the gas field that underlies Pennsylvania and New York. In July, the company began revealing the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing, in which drilling fluid is forced into the earth at high pressure to crack rock.
The EPA is conducting a nationwide study to see if hydraulic fracturing of natural-gas wells contributes to water pollution.
Armendariz said the wells in question were fractured between April and August 2009.
“We confirmed the natural gas that is entering the water wells is the same natural gas that Range is producing,” he said. “We don’t at this time know whether it was the hydraulic fracturing or a poor cementing job or a faulty casing or a number of other factors.”
The Texas Railroad Commission is still investigating the contamination and hasn’t made any conclusions, spokeswoman Ramona Nye said in a statement. “No pathways from a deep hydrocarbon source to the water well have been identified,” she wrote.
Elizabeth Ames Jones, one of the three elected Railroad Commissioners, said the EPA was making “false accusations” and that the commission “bases its decisions on sound science and fact.”