AP Report Suggests Contamination Cover-up in Texas - Validity of Report Questioned

The Associated Press released an exclusive report alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) backed off of an investigation of methane contamination in a Texas water well because Range Resources, the gas company under investigation, threatened not to be part of the national EPA fracking study.

For those unfamiliar with the case of Steve Lipsky, click here to see some background.

As for this latest report, here is an excerpt from the AP article:

At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane. More than a year later, the agency rescinded its mandate and refused to explain why.

Now a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with company representatives show that the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing. Regulators set aside an analysis that concluded the drilling could have been to blame for the contamination.
Read the rest of that report here.

Here is how it is being spun by anti-drilling groups.  From DeSmogBlog:
The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX. 
That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.
Read that whole article here.  Note how it states that the report, which was authored by a geologist named Geoffrey Thyne, would have "explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing."  Even the AP report, which was clearly written in such a way that it casts Range Resources and the EPA in the least positive light possible, didn't go that far.  It stated that the analysis "concluded the drilling could have been to blame."

And now, to get the other angle on this story, here is Energy in Depth's response:
What the AP refuses to acknowledge, though, is the mountain of scientific and peer-reviewed evidence showing that Range’s activities were not responsible for the methane found in the water wells, and thus Plushnick-Masti ignores even the possibility that EPA rescinded its order based on credible scientific findings.
That includes data submitted directly to the EPA – which E&E News’ Mike Soraghan recently obtained in a FOIA request – showing water quality in the affected wells was consistent with historical trends. That data also showed methane at a concentration half that of what would be considered an “action level.” Even Duke University’s Rob Jackson – whom the AP cited as an “expert reviewer” for the Parker Co. story – said the readings “are not dangerous levels.”
And what about all of the data presented at that January 2011 meeting with the Texas Railroad Commission (the entity in Texas that regulates oil and gas development) – the same meeting that the EPA, having been invited to present its evidence, flat out refused even to attend?
Those of us who have followed this case for more than a couple of days will remember that it was this meeting where experts showed conclusively that nitrogen fingerprinting of methane – a detail the EPA completely ignored in its analysis, by the way – proved that the gas was coming from the Strawn Formation, not the Barnett Shale, and thus not due to Range’s activities. Research from Collier Consulting from way back in December 2003 even identified a significant presence of Strawn-based methane in the region’s water wells – long before Range arrived on the scene.
Read the whole article here.

Geoffrey Thyne, the researcher of the report that was "censored" by the EPA, would appear to be a go-to guy for anti-drilling groups looking to get a report that will implicate hydraulic fracturing for water contamination.  He has done work for the environmental (and fiercely opposed to drilling) group Earthworks and also issued a report in 2009 linking water contamination to fracking in Colorado that was later debunked.

In this case, he performed an isotopic analysis and concluded that the gas in the Lipsky well came from the Barnett shale.  Range Resources insists it doesn't, and presented evidence to that effect, as mentioned in the Energy in Depth article.  The AP report mentions Range being convinced of the origins of the gas, but does not reference the evidence compiled to support that conclusion.

Basically, as I understand it (and that is to say, as a total layman on these topics), it comes down to the fact that Thyne's isotopic analysis was inadequate to determine the source of the gas, because the isotopic properties of gas in the Barnett shale and the shallower Strawn Formation are the same.  As Range contends, the nitrogen fingerprinting analysis shows that the gas did not come from the Barnett shale.

Even Duke professor Rob Jackson, who is continuously endeavoring to discover a link between fracking and water contamination with his research, acknowledged that Thyne's analysis wasn't enough to conclusively establish a link between the Lipsky water problems and the Range drilling operation.  He does state that there was enough there that it shouldn't have just been dropped, but as mentioned, the AP article doesn't refer even in passing to the separate testing and evidence presented by Range, which just as well could be what prompted the EPA to drop its investigation.

Remember, the EPA still has not commented on why the case was dropped, as the AP notes:
The agency refused to answer questions about the decision, instead issuing a statement by email that said resolving the Range Resources matter allowed the EPA to shift its “focus in this case away from litigation and toward a joint effort on the science and safety of energy extraction.”
As to the claim that the EPA dropped the matter in order to gain Range's cooperation and participation in its ongoing fracking study?  EID reports that Range is not participating in that study at all.

There are a lot of questions raised by this report.  It would appear that it is incomplete at best, and extremely biased and inaccurate at worst.

What do you think?

By the way, you can read Geoffrey Thyne's report here.

You can read about the judge ruling that Lipsky intentionally made a deceptive video here.

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