EPA Backpedals on Fracking Contamination

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.

A pond near water wells that the EPA had said were polluted by natural-gas drilling in Parker County, Texas. The agency dropped its claim Friday.

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.

Taken together, some experts say, these misfires could hurt the agency’s credibility at a time when federal and state regulators seek ways to ensure that natural-gas drilling is done safely.

A growing number of industry, academic and environmental experts say that while drilling can cause water contamination, that can be avoided by proper use of cement seals and other safety measures.

By year’s end, the EPA is set to release initial results of a study on the impact on water of hydrofracturing, or fracking, which involves using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to break apart energy-rich rocks. State officials contend they are in a better position to evaluate drilling procedures and safety in their areas, but they have been accused of laxity by environmentalists and local governments officials.

Wall Street Journal

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