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Monday, May 21, 2012

Activists Demonize Range Resources For Suing Landowner, But Who Do the Facts Support?

From Mother Jones:
Natural gas company Range Resources Corp. is suing a Texas landowner and environmental consultant for $3 million in damages, and may be coming after a blogger as well for damaging its reputation.
In 2010, Texas landowner Steven Lipsky made a video (see below) that showed a garden hose shooting out fire, which he blamed on nearby natural gas extraction. He sent the video to Texas blogger Sharon Wilson, who posted it online, and he hired environmental consultant Alisa Rich to come test the water and send the results to the EPA.
Bloomberg reports that Range is accusing Lipsky and Rich of a "conspiracy to harm its reputation" in the suit, and demanding information from Wilson to prove it:
Range won one round in its fight this week, when a judge ruled that Wilson had to turn over e-mails she exchanged with the EPA and Lipsky, as she is a "central and recurring character in the conspiracy lawsuit."
“This has everything to do with Range trying to shut me up, and further intimidate opponents,” Wilson said in an interview. Wilson, who said she didn’t even receive the video of Lipsky’s flaming hose until after the EPA acted, said she fears she may be added to the suit against Lipsky and Rich.
Lipsky says he sought Rich's help, along with the EPA's, after state regulators didn't respond to his concerns. EPA staff then came out and did its own tests, finding alarming levels of methan that they believe posed an "imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire." The agency ordered Range to take immediate action to correct the situation. But then state regulators in Texas decided that the Range wasn't responsible. So Lipsky sued Range, and the company countersued the pair for defamation, accusing Lipsky and Rich of conspiring to get the EPA involved.
Read the rest of the article and view the video in question here.  

The problem for Lipsky is that he has no actual evidence of the methane coming from Range's fracking activity.  While he claims that there was no methane in his well prior to the fracking nearby (you know, during the time when there wouldn't have been anyone to sue for the methane in his well), geochemists have gone on record that it is impossible for the methane to have come into the water well from the Barnett Shale.  Lipsky has to fall back on the scientific evidence he has to suggest otherwise and...oops, he doesn't have any.

From Science 2.0:
A local resident, Steve Lipsky, was featured in viral videos lighting his water on fire a la the misleading anti-fracking propaganda film “Gasland,” which featured a Colorado resident lighting his drinking; only later did the truth emerge that the film's director was well aware that the contamination was caused by naturally occurring methane.
Because of the media blitz inflamed by that video and a full court press by national activists who were hopeful they finally had their anti-fracking smoking gun, the EPA launched an investigation in October 2010 and sampled Lipsky’s well. Two months later, in early December, (now former EPA regulator Al) Armendariz sent what appeared to be a gleeful and thoroughly partisan email to virulently anti-shale gas blogger Sharon Wilson (known as Texas Sharon), Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen and other activists.
“We're about to make a lot of news," Armendariz boasted. Apparently, he had found the company he wanted to crucify, and that he tried to do a few days later. He issued an endangerment order based on his determination that Range Resources had caused or was contributing to the contamination of drinking water wells. The EPA ordered the company to step in immediately to stop the contamination, provide drinking water and provide methane gas monitors to the homeowners.
“We are worried about the families’ safety,” he said. “It was incumbent for us to act quickly.” Armendariz also took a partisan shot at the state Railroad Commission and Texas politicos, mostly Republicans, damning them for not protecting local water supplies, adding that the EPA was "very concerned" that natural gas could migrate into the home through water lines, leading to a fire or explosion.”
Oops. The EPA had stepped in it again. In March 2011, a review by state regulators and independent testimony from Mark McCaffrey, an MIT-educated petroleum geochemist with Weatherford Laboratories, provided geological evidence that the gas, couldn’t be from the Barnett Shale Formation, as Lipsky and activists, who had not done thorough testing, believed. As in Colorado (in the “Gasland” film) and in Pavillion, it was found that the water had been polluted by natural methane for decades. In Texas, a nearby public water system, Lake Country Acres, had signs on its water storage tanks that read, "No Open Flame," dating to around 1995. Both countries produced gas years before Range drilled its wells.
Even EPA's own geochemist had warned that gas-bearing formations other than the Barnett Shale needed to be ruled out before the agency fingered Range. According to McCaffrey, gas seeping into Range's wells would "have to migrate through the cement and take a right-hand turn and create pressure in the Strawn that would somehow push back half a mile to get into the Lipsky’s' water well." The Commission noted that the EPA had ignored many of its own standard investigatory procedures in what they concluded was a rush to judgement that circumvented standard investigatory processes. It called the EPA’s order against Range “unprecedented,” finding that the company was “not responsible for methane contamination of wells,” and voted unanimously to clear Range of water contamination. The EPA went silent.
One year later, the EPA dropped its 15-month old emergency order.
Read the rest of that article here.

And if you want a COMPLETE breakdown of the Range v. Lipsky matter, check out this article from Houston Press.  It is an article heavily biased in favor of Lipsky's account of matters, but it does contain all of the facts necessary to understand the reality of the situation (in between the suggestions and clearly disappointed statements which attempt to demonize Range Resources) - including the fact that the scientific expert that Lipsky obtained to help him in his case based his arguments on what he gleaned from reading transcripts of a prior hearing rather than any physical research and testing of the sites involved, while Range produced a list of scientists who gave scientific explanations for why they felt that Lipsky's claims were bogus.

Fracking may contaminate drinking water.  I honestly don't know.  But cases like this aren't providing any scientific proof of it, and without that it just makes the landowners look like they are trying to cash in on the public hysteria over fracking - especially when they go out of their way to force legal action by getting activists to publish deceptive videos like the one of Lipsky's flaming hose.

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