NATURAL GAS:

Methane levels show driller 'never caused any impacts' -- Range

Range Resources Corp. says the testing results it has provided to U.S. EPA about methane in water wells surrounding its operations outside Fort Worth, Texas, show that it is drilling responsibly.

"All of the water is consistent with historical water quality in that region, which is further evidence that Range never caused any impacts in Parker County," said company spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

Range agreed to do the testing as part of an agreement with EPA so the agency would drop water pollution charges leveled at the company. EPA had charged that the company's wells were leaking methane gas into two homes in Parker County, just west of Fort Worth.

EnergyWire obtained the data from EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request. They indicate that methane is present in the water coming from many of the wells, but not at dangerous levels. Range contends drinking water wells in the area had methane in them before it began drilling there.

The "action level" for methane in water is 10 micrograms per liter. None of the results provided by the company Range hired for the testing was higher than 5 mg/l.

"These particular values are not dangerous levels," said Rob Jackson, a Duke University scientist who has been examining methane in groundwater near drilling sites.

Al Armendariz brought the high-profile case in December 2010 as the Dallas-based director for EPA's Region 6, which includes Texas and surrounding states. He resigned about a month after the case was dropped in late March (Greenwire, April 30, 2012).

His emergency order also accused state oil and gas officials at the Texas Railroad Commission of failing to protect their residents.

Range denied the accusations. The gas found in the water wells is thermogenic methane, the type of gas that companies drill for. But scientists for Range said that it had a different carbon fingerprint from the Barnett Shale gas that Range was producing in the area.

Officials at the Texas Railroad Commission backed the company.

Landowners turned to EPA after they said they weren't getting help from the state. The landowners' complaints to the state revealed in August 2010 that one of the wells had "bradenhead pressure," an indication that gas could be seeping into the space behind the production casing. Range did another test in October 2010 that satisfied Railroad Commission officials that the well had mechanical integrity.

In dropping the case, EPA and the Justice Department said government officials wanted to shift away from litigation to a "joint effort" involving more testing. As part of the settlement, Range agreed to do much of the testing it would have been required to do under the emergency order.

The settlement called for Range to conduct four sets of tests, spaced evenly over the course of a year, on local water wells, looking for methane, benzene and other substances.

Jackson reviewed two of the reports at the request of EnergyWire. He said what has bothered him is that the ratio of methane to other hydrocarbons like benzene in the samples is indicative of deep thermogenic gas. He also said he has been unable to find data showing the gas signature of the formation where Range and the Railroad Commission say the gas came from, the Strawn formation.

"For me, that's still a gap," Jackson said.

In October, Armendariz said he still believed that Range contaminated the well.

"The best available data that I was presented by my staff indicated that that driller's natural gas was ending up in a private drinking water well," Armendariz told a conference of environmental journalists meeting in Lubbock, Texas. "I've not seen, and when I withdrew our enforcement action I didn't see, anything to the contrary."

He added at the time that he had not seen any of the results of the testing Range agreed to do under the settlement.

At the time, EnergyWire had requested the test results from an agency spokeswoman. The FOIA request was filed after Armendariz's remarks. Attempts to reach Armendariz to discuss the results were unsuccessful.

Armendariz's remarks drew a terse letter from Range attorney David Poole, who was honored for his work on the case by the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (EnergyWire, Oct. 25, 2012).

"You have chosen to publicly make false comments about Range and we must insist that you cease from making further false and disparaging comments against Range," Poole wrote to Armendariz, who now works for the Sierra Club in Texas. Armendariz didn't publicly respond to Range's letter.

To see a copy of the results, click here.

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