Frackers Sue Victim of Their Water Pollution for $3 Million for Exposi...

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bawdygear 2013-11-11 11:02

Texas Frackers Sue Victim of Their Water Pollution for $3 Million for Exposing Them

Fracking outfit Range Resources slapped Texas homeowner Steve Lipsky with a $3 million defamation suit to bully him into silence about his polluted water but Lipsky is fighting back. Lipsky is a wealthy man, not used to being bullied, but the frackers think they can use their control of the state of Texas to bulldoze him. They have bought off the Texas Railroad Commission that supposedly regulates fracking in Texas, and intimidated the USEPA into inaction so they don't intend to let minor matters like safe drinking water, private property rights and the first Amendment get in the way of their pursuit of profits.

On October 10, 2013, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals ruled that Range Resources could move forward with their defamation suit against Lipsky, based in part on accusations that Lipsky is misleading the public about being able to set his water on fire

In 2010 the EPA issued an emergency order over Lipsky's contaminated water, but then retracted the order a little over a year later with no justification. An AP investigation discovered that Range had successfully pressured the EPA into submission. Although the EPA had water chemistry measurements that showed Lipsky's water was dangerously polluted, the EPA withheld the evidence and vacated the emergency order, apparently for political reasons. The EPA's actions left Lipsky vulnerable to Range's SLAPP suit.
At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane. More than a year later, the agency rescinded its mandate and refused to explain why. Now a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with company representatives show that the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing. Regulators set aside an analysis that concluded the drilling could have been to blame for the contamination. For Steve Lipsky, the EPA decision seemed to ignore the dangers in his well, which he says contains so much methane that the gas in water pouring out of a garden hose can be ignited. "I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," said Lipsky, who fears he will have to abandon his dream home in an upscale neighborhood of Weatherford.

Because the EPA backed off the case, the Texas Railroad Commission, a regulator completely captured by the oil and gas industry it supposedly regulates, was able to hold a kangaroo court proceeding to present the appearance that Range Resources was the second coming of Snow White minus the seven dwarfs. Range was then in a position to try to silence its critics with the help of a Rush Limbaugh-loving judge.
This didn't stop the Railroad Commission - a regulatory agency that governs all things oil and gas related in Texas - from holding their own hearings that cleared Range Resources, based on evidence provided by the company. The EPA chose not to participate nor did the Lipskys since both were only given ten days to prepare, making a fair hearing improbable. Range Resources spent millions of dollars putting on a one-sided case for the Railroad Commission, attacking all of the EPA's findings. Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, who conducted the testing for the EPA, reviewed the Railroad Commissions' findings that cleared Range Resources. He wrote: "My conclusion, that the gas well could be the source of methane in the (Lipsky) water well, was based on the chemical and isotopic data. After reviewing the Range presentation to the Texas RRC my opinion is unchanged." The Lipskys sued Range Resources after the EPA named the company the party responsible for contaminating the well. The family was promptly counter-sued by Range Resources for defamation. The presiding judge, Trey Loftin, dismissed the Lipskys' claims, citing lack of jurisdiction, but allowed Range’s defamation suit to proceed.

However, Bloomberg news uncovered a campaign flier that showed that Judge Loftin had an ethics problem in the case.
With aspects of the case still pending in his courtroom, Judge Trey Loftin sent fliers to voters saying he forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back down. Loftin, who is campaigning to keep his state judgeship in a county west of Dallas, also sent out materials with the image of talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who credited the judge’s ruling in favor of driller Range Resources Corp. (RRC), based in Fort Worth, Texas, for getting the EPA to reverse course.

According to Kossack TexasSharon, who has obtained a report from a firewalled investigation, Range Resources has been submitting bogus results to the EPAto cover up large-scale water contamination in Lipsky's development.
Bryce Payne, a soil scientist hired by Perdue’s neighbor as part of the area’s long-running water contamination case, says the contamination in the area is much bigger than Perdue’s one high reading. He says EPA has accepted “bogus” test results from Range and its contractors for Perdue’s water well and 17 more belonging to her neighbors. The results submitted to EPA by Range, he said, include contradictory data. One set shows acceptably low levels of methane in most of the water wells, while the other shows that those low levels can’t be correct.

Independent, unbiased, water studies by Duke University scientists have found severe contamination of Lipsky's water.
In September 2013, tests showed gas coming out of Lipsky's water well measuring 162,000 parts per million (ppm). 50,000 ppm is considered a level for potential explosion. Air samples taken directly from the water well headspace vent showed levels exceeding 900,000 parts per million. Several residents alerted the Railroad Commission of new high-test levels, prompting the agency to reopen its investigation.

Apparently Range's owners think they can get away with all of this because they own the state of Texas and have intimidated the EPA into silence. Clearly, they have captured the Texas Railroad Commission and the state of Texas.
Television news reporters have found communications that show Range Resources failed to cement a well to prevent contamination from gas bearing layers below from flowing up to the domestic water supplies that Lipsky and his neighbors used. The Texas Railroad Commission knew the cause of the contamination, but then denied the contamination existed in the official proceedings.

In a review of Railroad Commission records, News 8 discovered correspondence between Range Resources and state regulators in which the driller agreed it had a problem. In response to that 2010 violation, Range proposed to fix its wellhead pressure problem by "circulating the cement to the surface." Range added, "this work is to eliminate any chance that gas could be migrating from any zone" down below. “It tells me that they waited over a year to actually realize they should have cemented to surface and realize that apparently they knew they had a problem,” Lipsky said. But Range Resources never added the cement down well. No repairs were ever made, and the violation for gas pressure on the wellhead was later dropped by the Railroad Commission, which went on to rule that Range was not responsible for the flames coming out of the Lipsky water well. The state also says the well is in full compliance with the law.

Despite the evidence that the fix is in, Lipsky isn't giving up. Perhaps it's because he's a wealthy conservative who still believes that the system works for people like him. Perhaps it's because he still believes that the government will protect private property rights against pillaging by large corrupt corporations. Perhaps it's because he has invested millions into his luxurious property. However, there's a chance that Lipsky is learning that his millions are small change to the oil and gas industry and they intend to destroy him and anyone who has the courage to try to stop their depredation.
Steve Lipsky is now working with attorney Brent M. Rosenthal, who is preparing to petition for a writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court asking to dismiss Range's remaining claims for defamation and business disparagement against Steven Lipsky. "I will assert," Rosenthal says, " as I have before the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, that Range's claims are meritless and threaten the exercise of First Amendment rights by Steve Lipsky and anyone else who speaks out on issues of public concern. I hope that organizations fighting for first amendment rights and social justice, as well as those involved in the environmental movement, will be concerned about the case and will work to persuade the courts to reject claims like Range's claim against the Lipskys.
HAB911 2013-11-11 11:17
Check out this scam:

Home builder grabs drilling rights beneath thousands of Tampa Bay homes

BRANDON — When Mallory and Zach Sinclair were looking for their first home, they swooned over a new townhouse in the Brandon subdivision of Whispering Oaks. With well-manicured lawns, it looked fresh and untouched, with streets bearing pastoral names like Spring Flowers and Summer Clouds.

But in January, when the young parents cracked open their closing papers, they noticed an alarming clause. Their home builder had quietly signed away the rights to the land beneath their home to its own energy company. It now had free rein deep below the surface to drill, mine or explore.

Selling underground mineral rights has long been big business in the oil- and gas-rich boomtowns of Texas, North Dakota and beyond.

 But homeowners here might be surprised to learn that they, too, could be part of the prospecting. A Tampa Bay Times analysis found that D.R. Horton, the nation's largest home builder, has pocketed the rights beneath more than 2,500 Tampa Bay homesites, whether the homeowner realizes it or not.

It's unclear what home builders expect to find deep beneath Tampa Bay's suburbs. Homes here sit on swiss-cheese blocks of water and limestone, known more for sinkholes than fuel or treasures.
But with recent advances in drilling technologies — including hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking" — tapping into once-untouchable natural gas and oil reserves, experts say builders see the deeds as lottery tickets: potential jackpots buried beneath homes they can still sell at full price.

"With the possibility of fracking, as stupid as it seems to do that in Florida, no one's taking any chances," Tampa land use attorney Pamela Jo Hatley said about builders.
• • •

D.R. Horton representatives did not respond to calls or emails. But the builder's own words fill stacks of deeds filed since 2007 reserving the rights below homesites, including more than 400 in Tampa Bay this year.
The mineral-rights claims lie mostly below cookie-cutter homes and townhouses sprinkled across the Tampa suburbs, but affected homesites can also be found in every county across the bay area, and in cities from St. Petersburg to Spring Hill.

Signed over from the builder to its Texas-based subsidiary, DRH Energy, the deeds hand eternal rights to practically anything of value that it finds buried underground, including gold, groundwater and gemstones.
They also give the energy firm the right to explore, study, mine, drill, pump or install wellsites to access any and all treasures starting, depending on the deed, either 30 feet or 500 feet below ground.
Homeowners are protected from oil derricks or any other equipment in their front yard by a one-page "surface waiver," though nothing prohibits a company from drilling horizontally from afar.

Not all homeowners are pleased to learn they've settled the biggest purchase of their lives on a potential drilling zone. Some worry underground meddling could lead to contamination, industrial noise or home-destroying sinkholes. Others just want to earn a cut of any drilling profits themselves.

But some home buyers said they don't even remember hearing of the underground deal. Mark McDonald, who bought a $150,000 townhome this year in FishHawk Ranch in eastern Hillsborough, said he remembers a thick stack of paperwork at closing but nothing about the mineral-rights deed.

"I'm surprised," he said, when a Times reporter told him about the deed. "I didn't expect that at all."

A home buyer who learns the land is encumbered might decide to look somewhere else. And a homeowner who agrees to the deal could have problems selling to someone else. Banks, lenders and insurers have balked at giving mortgages or insurance coverage to homes where the underground rights belong to someone else or drilling is under way.
"It could screw up a deal if that were brought to the forefront," said James Ruffolo, a Realtor with Charles Rutenberg Realty. "Buyers want the best deal possible, they want to own the home outright, and that could really rub people the wrong way."

Florida law doesn't demand that builders alert home buyers that they own the rights beneath their feet. Attorneys rarely attend closings. And though title-insurance policies and public county records can cast light on the deeds, Realtors say it's all too easy to miss the fine print.
Buyers sometimes sign away their rights knowingly, too. They learn of the mineral-rights deed at closing time, after they've arranged a mortgage, prepared to move and daydreamed about their new kitchen. The deal is set up, some buyers said, in a way that makes it nearly impossible to say no.

Zach Sinclair, the Whispering Oaks homeowner, said he first saw the mineral-rights clause after signing nearly 70 pages of closing forms. A former property manager in Chicago, he said he knows well the strategy of slipping in bad news near the end of the stack.

When he asked a builder representative about it, he said, he was told it was "no big deal" but the form had to be signed.

"If I didn't sign all those papers, the deal was off, and I had a waiting kid and a pregnant wife who wanted to kill me. I just had to do what I had to do and assume nothing bad was going to happen," Sinclair said. "It was kind of weird, and unprofessional. … But a lot of people probably went through on robot mode and just signed it."
• • •
At a typical closing, a home buyer can expect the land is theirs down to the core. Most property law works off a Latin doctrine, "For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to heaven and down to hell."

But everything has a price, and since the mining booms of more than a century ago, prospectors and "land men" have doled out big money for subsurface rights, a tactic dramatized in the movie There Will Be Blood. This works in the other direction, too: In places like Manhattan, millions of dollars are spent on "air rights" for high-rises, radio towers and other skyward growth.

Florida may not seem like an obvious choice for energy conglomerates looking to boost their supplies. But more than 150 oil wells are active statewide, with massive oil fields on both ends of the state filling more than 2 million barrels of crude last year. As oil prices have risen in recent years, incentives to drill have strengthened. In five years, environmental officials have approved 40 statewide oil drilling permits (and denied zero).

More refined technologies have also led drillers to expand their horizons. Horizontal drilling, in which long pipes can branch off sideways from a vertical well, has opened up long-hidden pools of fuel beneath residential neighborhoods. Hydrologists have pinpointed hot spots for natural-gas fracking in southwest Florida and the Panhandle that could prove to be gold mines. Energy companies paid more than $20 billion last year in natural-gas royalties alone.

Though drilling in Florida is nothing new, the issue of energy prospectors' invasions upon the suburbs has recently heated up. In August, protesters in Naples marched outside Gov. Rick Scott's home and set up a model oil rig to criticize plans to drill about 1,000 feet from the nearest home, on the edge of a Florida panther refuge.

Critics have warned that fracking's forceful bursts of water, sand and chemicals, which are used to free deeply embedded gas and oil, could poison or pollute soil, air and groundwater supplies. This year, Florida lawmakers attempted to demand that well operators tell the state which chemicals they use in their fracking fluids; the bill failed.

Debates over fracking's explosive growth led homeowners in at least one state to fight back against mineral-rights snatching. Last year, after an outcry from homeowners and letters from the North Carolina Department of Justice, D.R. Horton told state officials it would stop stripping the drilling rights from property deeds and offered to give the rights back to homeowners.

But some say builders would rather chance a potential backlash than trade away a future payday.

"It's a gamble," said Mark Stewart, a professor at University of South Florida's School of Geosciences. "It's something you can reserve for yourself that might have some future value, and it costs you nothing."
bawdygear 2013-11-11 11:26
If gubmint tried doing that, the GOP would be outraged.  Since it's just a corrupt freemarket company doing it, there will be no outrage.  There may even be sympathy.
Last edited 2013-11-11 12:25
multis_dog 2013-11-11 12:24
Reply to #1935315
..."the Texas Railroad Commission that supposedly regulates fracking in Texas"

WTH is THAT all about?????... is this Texas's idea of a sick JOKE, to place the Railroad Commission in charge of regulating FRACKING ??? On WHAT authority are they qualified to regulate the engineering and pollution concerns generated from the fracking industry? Appears to me to be yet another obvious example of Texans making use of the damaging policy of STUPIDITY ON PARADE with this one.
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