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EPA Agrees to Dismiss Well Contamination Case Against Range

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to end a lawsuit that would’ve forced Range Resources Corp. to fix natural-gas wells the government said were contaminating water in Parker County, Texas.

The agency withdrew an administrative order yesterday and joined with Range seeking dismissal of the case in a filing today in federal court in Dallas. The government wants to “shift the agency’s focus in this particular case away from litigation” and instead test water wells in the area, the agency said in a statement.

EPA ordered Range to fix leaks in the area in 2010, saying state regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission weren’t acting fast enough after residents complained of gas in their water wells. Range, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said gas was already present in local water and its operations weren’t the cause.

Range uses hydraulic fracturing in Texas’s Barnett Shale, shooting water, chemicals and sand underground to get oil and gas from dense rock formations. Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, say the technique known as fracking can contaminate local water supplies.

The EPA said in 2010 that the wells were fractured; it didn’t say whether fracking caused the gas leaks.

“It is very important for people who live in that community to trust that their environment, safety and health is protected,” Matt Pitzarella, a Range spokesman, said in a telephone interview. “We believe this withdrawal will help.”

Sampling Water Wells

The decision is “a vindication of the science-based processes at the Railroad Commission,” Barry Smitherman, chairman of the three-member state agency, said in a statement.

Range will sample 20 private water wells in the area each three months for a year and turn over the results to the federal government, according to a letter provided by the EPA. Range may also turn over data it got from state regulators. Pitzarella said the company had already committed to doing those tests before the EPA withdrew its order.

The EPA is conducting a nationwide study to determine if gas drilling and fracking contribute to water contamination.

On March 15, the agency said gas found in 11 water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania, didn’t pose a health risk, a finding three scientists questioned after reviewing the results and seeing elevated methane levels.

The agency agreed with Wyoming state regulators on March 8 to conduct more tests at a site in Pavillion, where initial results found evidence that fracking contributed to water pollution. State regulators and industry officials questioned those initial results.

Range rose 2.1 percent to $58.14 at the close in New York.

The case is U.S. v. Range Production Co., 11:-cv-00116, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).

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