By Neela Banjeree
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON (MCT) – The Environmental Protection Agency was justified in intervening to examine possible risks of gas drilling to Texas drinking water, the agency’s internal watchdog reported last week.
But environmentalists say the report raises fresh concerns about the EPA’s 2012 decision to halt its investigation into possible well-water contamination in Parker County.
The EPA inspector general’s report is the latest analysis to spotlight the regulator’s handling of high-profile cases of alleged drinking-water contamination near natural gas drilling sites.
Over three years, the EPA has sampled water in Dimock, Pa., Pavillion, Wyo., and Parker County after residents complained that their water had turned foul once natural gas drilling began nearby. In each case, the EPA found evidence of contamination but declined to pursue further water sampling or disciplinary action against the energy companies.
Critics have accused the Obama Administration of backing away from the inquiries amid industry and political pressure, and because it views natural gas drilling as crucial to the economy and a cleaner environment.
In July, an internal EPA report indicated that workers in its Philadelphia office wanted to keep monitoring Dimock’s drinking water but EPA headquarters closed the investigation.
The inspector general’s inquiry was started at the behest of Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other lawmakers who contend that EPA’s regional office in Texas, EPA Region 6, exceeded its authority during the Parker County investigation. Many Republicans viewed the EPA’s investigation as a politically motivated attack against the oil and gas industry.
On Tuesday, Inhofe’s office dismissed the inspector general’s report, saying it had “failed to examine [a] closed-door conspiracy” to ruin the reputation of the energy company involved, Range Resources.
But environmentalists welcomed it as vindication of efforts by the EPA and independent scientists to explore the potential pollution risks of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting millions of gallons of water and sand laced with chemicals deep underground to crack shale formations and unlock oil and gas.