When the EPA last year dropped its inquiry into methane seepage from wells fracked by Range Resources, it seemed like an unusual move. Texan Steve Lipsky’s water supply was bubbling over with the explosive gas, after all, which seemed like the sort of thing an agency built around protecting the environment should look into. But Range Resources threatened to pull out of a key fracking study, and the EPA backed off.
Because, according to a report from Bloomberg, that’s the game the frackers at Range Resources play: bullying, threatening, intimidating.
Critics say the Fort Worth-based company, which pioneered the use of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, has taken a hard line with residents, local officials and activists. In one case it threatened a former EPA official with legal action; in another it stopped participating in town hearings to review its own applications to drill, because local officials were asking too many questions and taking too long.
“Range Resources is different from its peers in that it chooses to severely punish its critics,” said Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, Texas, and an activist who has been subpoenaed and issued legal warnings by Range. “Most companies avoid the perception of the big-bad-bully oil company, while Range Resources embraces it.”
The Bloomberg article outlines some of that bullying. A lawmaker who criticized Range had emails leaked to the local paper. And Steve Lipsky, he with the methane water, was sued.
[Range] argued in local court that Lipsky conspired to defame the company by getting his air and water tested by Alisa Rich, president of Wolf Eagle Environmental consultants, and taking that complaint to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to the media.
“The object of the conspiracy was to make false and damaging accusations that Range’s operations had contaminated Lipsky’s water well,” the company said in its suit, filed in July 2011.
While the case is still being fought in court, Lipsky stands by his charge of Range’s culpability: “It’s ludicrous,” he said, referring to the case. “They’re ruthless.”
As Bloomberg notes, there’s a potential downside to alienating citizens and politicians for a company that relies on permitting and leasing land. Tangling with the EPA, however, seems to carry very little cost at all. At least to Range Resources.