Government drops water pollution charges against Range

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 2, 2012 5:57pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency, in another retreat in its oversight of hydraulic fracturing, dropped allegations that Range Resources Corp polluted drinking water in Texas while drilling for natural gas.

The EPA on Friday said it would no longer pursue a lawsuit that alleged Range's drilling had polluted drinking water Parker County, Texas. The suit would have made Range fix wells it claimed were polluting the water.

The EPA has backtracked on oversight of three pollution claims in the last month, as the Obama administration walks a fine line between promoting drilling of vast new resources of domestic fuel and regulating an industry that environmentalists say can pollute water and air supplies.

"Resolving the lawsuits with Range allows EPA to shift the Agency's focus in this particular case away from litigation and towards a joint effort on the science and safety of energy extraction," an EPA spokesman said in a release.

On March 15 the agency released results from a first round of tests of drinking water at 11 homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania, the first batch of what the EPA announced in January would be tests performed at 60 homes in Dimock. Residents had complained since 2008 of foul smelling water after Cabot Oil & Gas Corp began fracking for gas nearby.

Earlier in March, the agency said it would work with the state of Wyoming to retest water supplies after questions were raised about an EPA draft report showing harmful chemicals from fracking fluids were likely present in an aquifer near the town of Pavillion.

The Obama administration is moving ahead with other regulations and safety tests on fracking. The agency is expected to finalize rules this week on emissions from fracking and other natural gas drilling that causes smog.

The EPA is also studying the actual fracking process, in which companies blast large amounts of sand and water laced with chemicals underground to free oil and natural gas. Initial results of the study, which was mandated by Congress, will be released by the end of the year.

The EPA is expected to release more results on water tests from the remaining 49 homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania in coming weeks.

(Reporting By Timothy Gardner; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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