The Fort Worth Business Press ran a story on page 8 in it January 21-27 issue by Associated Press reporter Ramit Pushnick-Masti that had many inaccuracies regarding hydraulic fracturing practices of the oil and gas industry.
The story alleges that an oil and gas company, Range Resources of Fort Worth, “may have tainted” water wells while drilling for natural gas. The “situation was so serious that it (Environmental Protection Agency) issued a rare emergency order in late 2010,” the story continued.
“For Steve Lipsky (the owner of the water wells), the EPA decision seemed to ignore the dangers to his family,” the story stated. The story states that “EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water well” and he concluded that they included chemicals that “could have originated from Range Resources’ nearby drilling operations.” However, the facts clearly show that the water wells were not contaminated by wells drilled by Range. A variety of scientists conducted extensive research, a hearing by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), and even a hearing in state district court all revealed that the wells drilled by Range were not the source of contamination, and the owner of the water wells in question and a consultant conspired to intentionally manipulate evidence. All of these facts – the conclusions by the RRC and a state district judge’s order – were conveniently left out of the AP story. Also absent from the AP story is the fact that Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Director Al Armendariz, who was forced to resigne from EPA in April 2012 and who works for the Sierra Club currently, jumped the gun when it issued an emergency order against Range Resources. By issuing the emergency order without a hearing, EPA tried, convicted and sentenced Range without any notice or opportunity to appear before EPA to show that it was not at fault. The case involves two water wells in Parker County, west of Fort Worth. The water wells were drilled in 2005. The person who drilled the well said there was gas present then. He even had a photograph that showed gas shooting out of a water hose and this was four years before the Range wells were drilled. Range Resources drilled its two natural gas wells about 1,200 feet from the water wells in 2009. In August 2010, the owners of the water wells complained to the RRC, the primary agency that regulates oil and gas activity in Texas, that methane gas has contaminated the water wells. It was obvious that methane gas was in the water wells, but where is it coming from? The RRC tested the water and soil around the wells, and it performed pressure tests on the wellhead of Range’s two wells. The wells passed pressure tests, showing that the leak did not come from the gas wells drilled by Range. And with the total depth of the wells being more than a mile below the depth of the water wells it is virtually impossible for natural gas to migrate all the way up through one mile of solid rock to the water wells. EPA, in an unprecedented move, issued an emergency order circumventing the authority of the state regulatory agency. Range Resources met with EPA officials on Dec. 15 to find out why EPA came down on it so hard, so quickly, and without evidence that Range’s wells were the source of the contamination. Range said EPA’s geologist “clearly understood the presence of the shallow gas reservoir immediately below the Trinity formation where the water wells are completed,” and that “EPA’s primary engineer acknowledge that fracing of the Barnett Shale was not a source of the gas in the aquifer.” Two hearing examiners at the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) found that wells drilled by Range could not have caused the contamination of water wells. The examiners found that the water wells were contaminated by natural gas in the Strawn –which is about 400 feet deep and about 200 feet below the depth of the water wells – and not from the Barnett Shale wells, which are about 5,000 feet deep with a maximum frac length of about 400 feet. The examiners also found fault of the testing EPA conducted regarding the “fingerprinting” of the gas, which will tell investigators the formation where the gas originated. EPA’s analysis alleged that the carbon isotopic fingerprint for Barnett Shale gas is expected to be similar to Strawn gas. However, the appropriate geochemical parameters for fingerprinting are nitrogen and carbon dioxide, not carbon. “Gas from the Strawn has higher nitrogen concentration and lower carbon dioxide concentration that Barnett Shale gas,” the RRC report stated. “Gas found in the 25 water wells, including the Lipsky and Hayley water wells, does not match the nitrogen isotopic fingerprinting of Barnett Shale gas. The gas found in the water wells matches Pennsylvanian gas,” the RRC found. RRC invited the EPA and the two domestic water well owners to present their evidence at the hearing. However, no EPA officials or water well owners appeared to testify. A hearing was held in a district court in Texas and the judge found on February 16 that the environmental consultant, Alisa Rich, and a water well owner, Steven Lipsky, conspired to create a “deceptive video: of fire coming out of a hose connected to a water well in a “conspiracy to defame Range.” “The Court references with concern the actions of Mr. Steven Lipsky, under advice and direction of Ms. Alisa Rich, to intentionally attach a garden hose to a gas vent – not a water line – and then light and burn the gas from the end nozzle of the hose,” Jude Trey Loftin, 43rd District Court in Parker County, wrote. “This demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculate to alarm the public into believing the water was burning. “There is further evidence that Rich knew the Regional EPA Administrator and provided or assisted in providing additional misleading information (including the garden hose video) to alarm the EPA. Moreover, the emails in question which refer to this deceptive garden hose demonstration as a ‘strategy’ appear to support that a ‘meeting of the minds’ took place and that a reasonable trier of fact could believe, together with other evidence, that the elements of a conspiracy to defame Range existed between the Lipskys and Ms. Rich.” Why did the reporter leave so many facts out of the story that would have clearly exonerated Range Resources?
Alex Mills, President
Texas Alliance of Energy Producers