The EPA got involved in 2010 because Range Resources and Texas regulators failed to act immediately on homeowners’ complaints of possible drinking water contamination, the report says.
When the EPA conducted its own tests, it found such high levels of methane in the water supply of two homes that it posed a risk of explosion, the report says. EPA tests also showed that the water contained benzene, a known carcinogen, above the agency’s maximum contamination levels.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, and an analysis performed for the EPA by an independent scientist found samples from the water supply to be nearly identical to the natural gas from the nearby Range Resources gas well.
Range Resources and Texas denied that the company’s gas development had contaminated the residents’ water.
The EPA issued an emergency order against Range Resources to provide drinking water to the affected residents and to better monitor the gas well. When Range Resources did not fully comply, the Justice Department filed a complaint on behalf of the EPA in January 2011 but withdrew it by March 2012.
The inspector general’s report said the EPA and Justice Department halted their action because the EPA worried about the costs and legal risks of the case. Although most officials were confident of their evidence, “there was always a risk that the judge could rule against the EPA. If that happened, it would risk establishing case law that could weaken the EPA’s ability to enforce” parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the report said.
Range Resources threatened to refuse to cooperate with a study the EPA had begun into possible effects of fracking on drinking water if the agency disciplined it, the report said. The EPA shelved its complaint after getting a nonbinding agreement for access to the company’s sites, the report said, but so far Range Resources has declined to participate in the study.