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Filmmaker Josh Fox responds to critics of 'Gasland, Part 2'

By Bob Downing Published: July 9, 2013

From a publicist for filmmaker Josh Fox:

In the days leading up to the nationwide premiere of Josh Fox's film "Gasland Part II," pro-fracking advocates, many from the oil and gas industry, have been attacking Josh, saying he is full of false claims. But that's simply not true. Take a look at Josh's video response, which is backed by science, here: http://vimeo.com/69627896.
 
And here's a true breakdown of the facts:
 

The latest scam by climate skeptic Phelim McAleer is a YouTube video purporting to undermine the Lipsky case featured in "Gasland Part II." Steve and Shyla Lipsky’s water supply was contaminated by methane and benzene as a result of nearby fracking operations carried out by gas company Range Resources. But Mr. McAleer leaves out a few important details, namely the facts. Here’s what really happened, as corroborated by the Associated Press, in the investigation of U.S. EPA official documents from the state regulatory agency with oversight over oil and gas, Range Resources’ own admissions and the Lipskys' personal horror story:

 

Steve Lipsky, a self-made businessman and entrepreneur, purchased land in Weatherford, Texas, in anticipation of building his dream home. Because there was no public water supply, the Lipskys drilled a well there in 2005.“According to the driller’s report, the well pumped good, clean water.”* In September 2009, the Lipskys moved into their new home. Around the same time, Range Resources commenced a drilling operation about a mile from the Lipsky property; two gas wells, drilled horizontally, ran practically beneath the Lipskys' home.

 

 

In late 2009, Steve Lipsky noticed his water well was sputtering and struggling to pump water. He called in a well service technician, thinking some well equipment simply needed to be replaced. The results took everyone by surprise: The well was full of methane—so much methane as to cause an imminent threat of explosion, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.** While regulation of fracking operations on private lands is generally reserved to the states, the EPA stepped in after determining that the responsible state agency, the Texas Railroad Commission, was too slow to respond to the Lipskys' claims.

 

 

EPA’s investigation found that the Lipskys were exposed to methane and cancer-causing benzene and ordered Range Resources to take immediate steps to resolve the problem. In August 2010, the Texas Railroad Commission also issued a violation notice to Range.*** The company responded in writing on August 25, admitting it could be at fault and proposing a plan of action for remediation.**** Specifically, Range said it would undertake a “squeeze job” on its fracked well, which is industry speak for trying to fix a botched cement job. Cement is used to fill the space between the gas well and surrounding rock formation. It is this cement that is supposed to provide the crucial barrier that prevents gas, fracking chemicals and other toxic compounds from migrating into water supplies.

 

 

But on September 28, 2010, Mary Patton, a petroleum engineer at Range Resources, wrote to the Commission requesting leave to amend the action plan. She said that the company disputed a match between its gas and the gas found in the Lipsky’s well and, as a result, “Range has reconsidered voluntarily” fixing the problem.*****

 

In response, EPA issued an emergency order in late 2010 that said the Lipskys were in immediate danger from the flammable methane in their well. Range was ordered to clean the water well and provide an alternative supply of safe drinking water.

 

Meanwhile Range was exerting serious pressure on state regulators to intervene. In March 2011, the Texas Railroad Commission mysteriously reversed course and declared Range was not responsible for the contamination of the Lipskys' well. Immediately, Range stopped the water shipments to the Lipskys, who were forced to begin spending $1,000 per month for drinking water.

 

Buoyed by the state’s decision, Range Resources sued the Lipskys for defamation.EPA called in independent expert Geoffrey Thyne to double-check its earlier findings in preparation for trial. Thyne used a chemical analysis called isotopic fingerprinting and determined that the methane in the Lipskys' drinking water was indeed a match with the gas from Range’s nearby drilling operation. (While EPA never released the results publicly, the Associated Press obtained a copy of Thyne’s report.)

 

Meanwhile, Range Resources hired its own experts to dispute these conclusions, throwing about $3 million into the suit. Officials from the Texas Railroad Commission and state legislature lined up alongside, expressing anger about the feds’ meddling in state affairs. Eventually the political heat became too much to bear. “In March 2012, the EPA retracted its emergency order, halted the court battle and set aside Thyne's report showing that the gas in Lipsky's water was nearly identical to the gases [Range] was producing.”******
 

The EPA offered no public explanation for its decision to drop the case. This pattern has now repeated itself multiple times across the country: (1) The federal EPA concludes that fracked gas operations are linked to water contamination; (2) the industry fights back, often with backing from the state, and (3) EPA drops the case and rescinds its conclusions. It’s hardly a coincidence.

 
--
 
*Brantley Hargrove, “How one man’s flaming water fired up a battle between Texas and the EPA, Dallas Observer, April 26, 2012.
**Ramit Plushnick-Masti, “EPA Changed Course After Gas Company Protested,” Associated Press, January 16, 2013: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/epa-changed-course-after-oil-company-protested
***Texas Railroad Commission, “Notice of Intent to Cancel P-4 Certificate of Compliance and Intent to Seal,” August 20, 2010.
****Letter from Range Resources to Doug Allmand, Engineering Specialist at the Railroad Commission of Texas, August 25, 2010.
*****Email from Mary Patton, Regulatory Manager at Range Resources, to Doug Allmand at the Texas Railroad Commission, September 28, 2010.
******Ramit Plushnick-Masti, “EPA Changed Course After Gas Company Protested,” Associated Press, January 16, 2013: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/epa-changed-course-after-oil-company-protested
 
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