Down in the Lone Star State, while it may be too soon to get our hopes up, it appears that a ray of sanity based sunshine may be breaking through the clouds of progressive political obfuscation surrounding the issue of natural gas drilling. And it didn’t even take a court to enforce it. In one pending case involving alleged contamination of ground water by energy exploration efforts, the EPA has backed out of a law suit and said that their claims can not be backed up by the evidence. They also signaled that they will revisit at least two more similar cases before deciding whether or not to proceed.
The Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its claim that an energy company contaminated drinking water in Texas, the third time in recent months that the agency has backtracked on high-profile local allegations linking natural-gas drilling and water pollution.
On Friday, the agency told a federal judge it withdrew an administrative order that alleged Range Resources Corp. had polluted water wells in a rural Texas county west of Fort Worth. Under an agreement filed in U.S. court in Dallas, the EPA will also drop the lawsuit it filed in January 2011 against Range, and Range will end its appeal of the administrative order.
In addition to dropping the case in Texas, the EPA has agreed to substantial retesting of water in Wyoming after its methods were questioned. And in Pennsylvania, it has angered state officials by conducting its own analysis of well water—only to confirm the state’s finding that water once tainted by gas was safe.
Some of us have been screaming this from the rooftops for years now, but to little avail in DC since 2006. So much of the hyperbole surrounding these claims came directly from Josh Fox’s fictional pseudo-documentary and green warrior dream ticket, Gasland. Of course, his most exciting and controversial claims were completely outside the realm of actual science. One of the most famous, as I’ve explained before, was the case of the Pennsylvania homeowner who had so much natural gas coming up from his well that he could set the sink on fire in his kitchen.
That much was true. Of course, it’s also true that you can do that in homes with in-ground wells all over Pennsylvania and Virginia in places where no drilling has taken place. With one pending case in Texas, the EPA seems to have finally noticed. (Emphasis mine)
The EPA bypassed the Texas Railroad Commission, which it said failed to address an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to public health. It ordered Range to supply water to the affected residents, identify how gas was migrating into the aquifer, stop the flow and clean up the water.
After the EPA sued Range for not complying with its order, Range appealed, arguing that the agency’s analysis was inconclusive. It pointed to nearby water wells that were known to contain high concentrations of gas long before it began drilling.
The railroad agency, which regulates oil and gas, concluded last year that gas most likely seeped into the aquifer from a shallow pocket of gas nearby, not the Barnett Shale, thousands of feet underground, from which Range was producing gas.
If you go to areas with huge concentrations of hydrocarbons under the ground such as Pennsylvania, West Virgina, Ohio or Texas, and you drill holes in the ground, you’re going to hit natural gas. That’s why we drill there. And the hole doesn’t have to be a gas well. It happens in water wells too.
And yet I attend rallies of Green Warriors where I live and see people talking about natural gas as if it’s just “gasoline” that shows up naturally under the ground. (So, of course, we should leave it there.) I’m not kidding… I heard a guy say that in New York last year.
Science for Dummies Alert: Gasoline and natural gas are entirely different things. Natural gas is a complex mixture composed primarily of Methane at roughly 80% (CH4) and Ethane (C2H6) with a few other sundry compounds tossed into the mix. Gasoline is mostly heptane (C7H16) and octane (C8H18) with some significantly lower amounts of everything from C6 to C11 tossed in. (We can’t actually refine to the level of compound specificity many people think we can, at least not in an economical fashion.)
Let’s put on our optimist caps and hope that reality has begun to sink in at the EPA and they will actually begin listening to scientists and industry experts rather than taking all their testimony from Josh Fox and a collection of Hollywood wannabes.