The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was justified in immediately barring residents in North Texas from using water contaminated with explosive methane and cancer-causing benzene, but additional testing and work needs to be done to assess whether a risk still exists, according to an internal investigation released Tuesday.
The report by the federal agency's Office of Inspector General concludes a yearlong probe into a case that has been mired in politics and a persistent back-and-forth between Texas and the EPA over how to oversee oil and gas drilling operations. It also left residents in the affected area either using the same water wells or paying to truck in water from other sources.
But the report's findings could reopen the door to a case that appeared to have been closed in 2012, when the EPA settled with Range Resources, the gas driller it suspected had contaminated the water, and withdrew its emergency actions.
Now, the EPA is being asked to evaluate Range Resources' most recent tests for quality and determine whether there are still risks to public health or of explosions due to methane gas. The report also asked the EPA to work with the Texas Railroad Commission — the state agency that oversees oil and gas operations — to mitigate any problems.