EPA shelved TX water study to appease Range Resources

EPA changed course after oil company protested

This is a complicated story that exemplifies how industry squelches the science of gas drilling impacts. In response to a Weatherford (TX) resident’s complaint about his well water, the EPA filed suit against Range Resources, the local operator. To beef up their lawsuit the EPA hired Dr. Geoffrey Thyne to analyze 32 wells in Weatherford, Texas.

“… Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources’ nearby drilling operation.

“Meanwhile, the EPA was seeking industry leaders to participate in a national study into hydraulic fracturing. Range Resources told EPA officials in Washington that so long as the agency continued to pursue a “scientifically baseless” action against the company in Weatherford, it would not take part in the study and would not allow government scientists onto its drilling sites, said company attorney David Poole.”

polluted drinking waterWhere have you heard of Dr. Geoffrey Thyne before? He investigated the West Divide Creek Seep from 2004-2009. In his Analysis of the West Divide Creek Seep, Thyne reported: “The data support the basic observations of Ms. [Lisa] Bracken. In fact, the data indicate there has been continued seepage of methane and associated hydrocarbons with the only significant decreases in gas and associated hydrocarbon concentrations in groundwater and stream samples during peak stream flow.”

Dr. Thyne also participated in the Mamm Creek Study and in his Review of Phase II Hydrogeologic Study, he linked methane and chloride found in water wells to gas drilling:  “Concurrent with the increasing methane concentration there has been an increase in groundwater wells with elevated chloride that can be correlated to the number of gas wells. Chloride is derived from produced water.”

Officials at The Colorado School of Mines, where Thyne worked as a research professor, told him to stop his research. He didn’t and when it came to renew his contract, he was cut loose. According to Thyne:  “Over a period of time my roles were marginalized. As a research professor you are supposed to be bringing money in and it became more difficult. There were a series of statements made over a two-year period that basically said ‘you’d be better off some place else’.”

So what happened to his research? It has been suppressed by Garfield County, the state (COGCC), and he has been discredited. The EPA is certainly not the only governmental entity involved covering up evidence of groundwater contamination from drilling and fracking.

The West Divide Creek Seep and Mamm Creek studies are important in the context of the EPA-Range Resources-Weatherford case because Dr. Thyne has a reputation within the industry as the guy who found methane in water wells in Garfield County and linked it to gas drilling activity. Range Resources had to shut down his research in Weatherford, Texas, any which way they could.

But that doesn’t excuse the EPA’s part in withdrawing the lawsuit and shelving Thyne’s report in Texas. Their stated reason doesn’t make any sense. According to the AP story, the EPA dropped the lawsuit and shelved Thyne’s study because Range Resources would refuse to take part in a forthcoming fracking study. But the EPA already had the upper hand in the Range Resources lawsuit with the Thyne study. They had a study in their hands that linked the methane to drilling activity so they dropped that for a future study. I don’t buy it.

The EPA has been colluding with the oil & gas industry for years. In 2004, the EPA released a report that determined hydraulic fracturing was safe for drinking water. Congress then used the report to justify passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which prohibited the regulation of fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. During the Bush/Cheney years, the EPA was severely weakened into a spineless shadow of its former self, controlled with a firm grip by Congress, plus other government departments and agencies, all of whom are heavily influenced by the oil & gas lobby. Dr. Thyne’s  Texas study isn’t the only cover-up in the EPA. If nothing else it provides a clue as to why EPA Director Lisa Jackson resigned.

In a March 2011 interview with ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, former EPA assistant administrator for water during the Bush/Cheney administration Benjamin Grumbles was asked, “What is the political environment that the EPA operates within?”

Grumbles replied, “Well, environmental laws can at times collide with energy policies and complicate energy policies. When the environmental statutes — the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] — are being discussed, other agencies have strong views and perspectives and want to support energy production and facilitate energy supply.

“The environmental laws and programs don’t always trump … If the mood of the nation is to increase energy independence and energy supply, some of the environmental provisions can be viewed as constraints or barriers to that process…”

By “mood of the nation” I take that to mean pressure from lobbyists.

Yup. It’s complicated all right. Industry demands more studies saying there’s no evidence of groundwater contamination correlated to drilling activity. When the studies provide the evidence they bring in paid experts to deem the studies “unscientific,” they discredit the scientists and the science, persuade government officials, and then they suppress the studies. It is an endless fracking cycle we have been unable to break. It’s going to take the kind of public opposition we’re seeing these days — and a lot more of it — to pressure government and industry into meaningful regulations to protect our air, water, public health, and the environment.

Sadly, in the meantime, millions of oil & gas wells across the U.S. and around the world are poisoning water supplies, polluting the air, devastating countless human lives, and damaging the environment. We can’t rely on the EPA. As I see it, for the time being anyway, the price of natural gas and the impacts of global climate change are the only factors we can rely on to slow down oil & gas production and thus reduce the impacts.

Resources:

Breaking: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

A case study in how industry influence squelches the science of gas drilling impacts – by Judy Jordan

A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More

Former Bush EPA Official Says Fracking Exemption Went Too Far; Congress Should Revisit

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