The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Don't Rush to Judgment on Fracking

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted December 29, 2010

The presumption of innocence is one of the founding principles of the U.S. justice system. Simply put, anyone accused of a crime in the United States is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Apparently that principle didn't apply to an order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to a natural gas producer.

According to an article in the San Angelo Standard-Times, the EPA recently issued an emergency order that "tried, convicted and sentenced" a natural gas company accused of polluting two water wells in Texas with methane gas. Weeks later, evidence shows that the company Range Resources was not responsible for the methane leaks.

As the article authored by Alex Mills of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers explains, the water wells were drilled in 2005 and Range Resources drilled two natural gas wells nearby in 2009. In August this year, the water wells' owners complained to the state agency that oversees oil and natural gas drilling that their wells had become contaminated. They blamed Range Resources.

Tests showed, however, that the methane did not come from Range's natural gas wells. In a meeting with EPA officials, Range Resources learned that an EPA engineer acknowledged that the hydraulic fracturing process, also known as fracking, in the deep natural gas wells was not the cause. Mills writes that the gas wells are more than a mile below the water wells, and it is virtually impossible for methane to migrate through solid rock into the existing water wells.

So where did the methane come from? Mills says an EPA geologist has noted that the water wells were drilled just above a separate shallow natural gas formation. And Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter recently discovered that the water wells contained methane gas when they were drilled.

A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 10 in Austin, Texas, to get to the bottom of this matter. Range Resources will offer testimony, but EPA officials reportedly aren't planning to attend. Range has issued subpoenas to EPA officials for their depositions.

In recent months, news articles and even a CSI episode have stirred up fears about natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing. This Texas case should remind everyone to consider the facts before rushing to judgment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.