EPA changed course after gas company protested
Texas family's water is contaminated with natural gas detritus
Meanwhile, the EPA was seeking industry leaders to participate in a national study into hydraulic fracturing. Range Resources told EPA officials in Washington that so long as the agency continued to pursue a "scientifically baseless" action against the company in Weatherford, it would not take part in the study and would not allow government scientists onto its drilling sites, said company attorney David Poole.
In March 2012, the EPA retracted its emergency order, halted the court battle and set aside Thyne's report showing that the gas in Lipsky's water was nearly identical to the gases the Plano, Texas-based company was producing.
"They said that they would look into it, which I believe is exactly what they did," Poole said. "I'm proud of them. As an American, I think that's exactly what they should have done."
The EPA offered no public explanation for its change in thinking, and Lipsky said he and his family learned about it from a reporter. 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."
Rob Jackson, chairman of global environmental change at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, reviewed Thyne's report and the raw data upon which it was based. He agreed the gas in Lipsky's well could have originated in a rock formation known as the Barnett shale, the same area where Range Resources was extracting gas.
Jackson said it was "premature" to withdraw the order and said the EPA "dropped the ball in dropping their investigation."
Lipsky, who is still tied up in a legal battle with Range, now pays about $1,000 a month to haul water to his home. He, his wife and three children are unnerved when their methane detectors go off. Sometime soon, he said, the family will have to decide whether to stay in the large stone house or move.