By Mark Drajem
WASHINGTON — When a Texas landowner took his fear that a gas driller had poisoned his well to federal regulators, the company, Range Resources Corp., turned around and sued him for conspiring “to harm Range.”
In Pennsylvania, a state lawmaker who criticized the company was dubbed “completely unhinged” by a Range representative and had his fundraising emails to its executives leaked to the local newspaper.
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 company counters that it enjoys a great working relationship with lease holders, residents and officials in the overwhelming majority of the 250 municipalities where it operates, but faces determined opponents in a few.
Matt Pitzarella, a company spokesman, said Range faces two intractable foes in western Pennsylvania: the local state representative, Jesse White, who had pressed Range executives to raise more money for his campaign before souring on the company and its practices; and John Smith, an attorney who represents townships that have had contentious relationships with Range and homeowners who say their water was contaminated.
“Range wants nothing more than to have positive working relationships in the places we work,” Pitzarella said. “It’s fair to say that we may take a different approach from others from time to time, but no different than a lot of individuals or businesses.”