Range Resources, TestAmerica accused of fraud in suit

A Range Resources natural gas well in Hopewell Township

A lab company Range Resources hired to test water in 2011 that federal authorities later found to be contaminated in Amwell Township is being accused in Washington County Court of altering test results.

Attorney Kendra Smith, representing John, Beth and Ashley Voyles, argued Thursday before Senior Judge William Nalitz that TestAmerica conspired with Range Resources employees to prevent data of nitrates and other specific contaminants from appearing in a final report given to the Voyles family and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. DEP found the water not to be contaminated based on TestAmerica results, but federal Environmental Protection Agency officials ruled the property’s water on McAdams Road was not safe to drink. The Voyleses are also parties in a lawuit, along with the Haney and Kiskadden famiies, claiming Range’s operations at the nearby Yeager well site and impoundment contaminated their water supplies and caused bodily harm. The problems at the Yeager site were included in a $4.1 million fine levied by DEP against Range.

Attorney Greg Krock of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, representing TestAmerica, argued the lab company is not liable for how its products are interpreted by users other than its hired clients. TestAmerica is seeking to have Nalitz throw out the lawsuit.

“The misrepresentation (that the Voyleses are alleging) is that the web portal report (from Total Access, a proprietary online data system), was presented as finalized data. It was not,” Krock said.

Smith responded by saying she does not know of a single environmental company that expects its own data results to not be counted on in all contexts.

“TestAmerica is an accredited testing lab. As part of that accreditation, they are expected to say if and when data is not to be treated as a final and valid report. They gave no such disclaimer on their letterhead printed documents,” Smith said. EPA tests later showed nitrates to be nearly double the allowed legal limit, she said. “That data was nowhere on the Total Access report,” Smith said.

Smith referred to emails in the court record that documented a Range employee being trained by a TestAmerica employee on how to use the Total Access data system and how to “customize the columns.”

In TestAmerica employee Barbara Hall’s email, she wrote “Just got off the phone with Carla Suszkowski of Range – we walked through Total Access and she couldn’t say enough good things about it.” The email also indicated the Range employee’s enthusiasm was “a great selling point.”

According to the plaintiffs’ filings, the customization language is a euphemism for manipulating or altering data. Smith said the Total Access instruction manual details how users can delete columns or hide data. Smith said TestAmerica had motive to collaborate with Range on altering the documents to reflect favorable results so the company would be retained for future testing.

“Oil and gas statutes say a lab must be independent so the reports they produce can be relied upon,” Smith argued. She said Hall sat on the EPA committee overseeing these types of investigations and, as stated in her emails, “knew the stakes were very high.”

Krock argued TestAmerica did not facilitate or encourage any data customization, and Range employees had control of its final reports.

Nalitz will ultimately rule whether the case will proceed to trial.

“This has been very illuminating. I’ll rule soon, allowing 10 days for briefs to be filed,” he said.

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