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Owner Of Contaminated Water Well In Parker County Texas Loses In Court-Burning Water Video Ruled A Scam

A judge has concluded that a Parker County resident, owner of a methane-contaminated water well, created a "deceptive video" that was "calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning."

State District Judge Trey Loftin said well owner Steve Lipsky collaborated with Alisa Rich, an environmental consultant.

Loftin made his remarks in an order, signed Thursday, denying a motion by Lipsky and Rich to dismiss Range Resources' multimillion-dollar counterclaim against them.

Fort Worth-based Range filed the counterclaim in July after Lipsky and his wife, Shyla Lipsky, sued it for $6.5 million in Loftin's 43rd State District Court in Weatherford. The couple contends that two Range natural gas wells contaminated their water well with methane, a primary component of natural gas.

"I respect Judge Loftin, but do not agree with his ruling," Rich, owner of the Wolf Eagle Environmental consulting firm in Flower Mound, wrote in an e-mail Friday. "... We are entitled to an appeal ... and intend to exercise our right."

Rich has been heavily criticized by the oil and gas industry, which has questioned her professional credentials, objectivity and testing methods. Range said she "serves as a hired gun for plaintiffs' lawyers who attack the oil and gas industry." She has defended her work in various depositions.

Lipsky declined to comment on Loftin's order and remarks, referring a reporter to his attorneys, Allen Stewart and David Ritter, who did not respond to requests for comment.

In sworn depositions, Lipsky and Rich have generally denied improper actions or intent to deceive with the video, which has been shown in TV reports and can be viewed on YouTube.

The Original Order

On Dec. 7, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order against Range, contending that two of its Barnett Shale gas wells "caused or contributed" to contamination of water wells belonging to Lipsky and a neighbor.

But John Blevins, the EPA official who signed the order, later backtracked somewhat, saying the Range wells "may" have caused or contributed to the contamination.

In his order, Loftin expressed concern that Lipsky, "under the advice or direction" of Rich, attached a hose to the water well's gas vent -- not to a water line -- and then lit the gas from the hose's nozzle.

"This demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning," the judge wrote.

Loftin also cited evidence that Rich had sought to mislead the EPA.
Loftin said e-mails between Lipsky and Rich about the video could reasonably lead people to believe that a "conspiracy to defame Range" exists.

Range called the video a "gross distortion."
"The hose pictured ... is not a water hose at all, but is used solely for the purpose of venting gas" from the Lipskys' water well, the company said in its counterclaim. Range is seeking $4.2 million in actual damages, plus unspecified punitive damages, for legal costs and damage to its reputation.

Range maintains that its gas wells did not cause the contamination and is battling the EPA in federal courts to have the order against the company dismissed. Range has said that water wells are often vented to prevent gas from building up, a practice employed long before Range began drilling around Parker County.

Another Setback

Loftin's order is the second major legal setback to the Lipskys in three weeks.

On Jan. 27, the judge threw out the Lipskys' $6.5 million lawsuit against Range, ruling that the couple lacked legal jurisdiction to sue because the Texas Railroad Commission had determined in March that Range's gas wells were not responsible for contaminating their well.

Loftin said that any challenge of the commission's ruling should have been filed in state district court in Austin and that the deadline for doing so has passed.

Lipsky previously said he didn't participate in a commission staff hearing about well contamination in January 2011 because his expert consultants didn't have enough time to prepare.

The Lipskys maintain that methane got into their well because of improper casing and cementing of the Range gas wells. They said Range's "failure to cement the surface casing of the Butler and Teal wells to a depth of at least 1,000 feet" caused gas from geological formations above the Barnett Shale to seep into their water supply.

In its March ruling, the Railroad Commission agreed with its staff and Range that gas in the water wells likely migrated from the shallow Strawn formation, which is only hundreds of feet deep. It is more than a mile above the Barnett Shale, the source of the Range wells' gas.

Range says gas from shallow formations had appeared in south Parker County water wells for many years before Range began drilling in the area. But Lipsky said his water well had generally functioned capably for several years and began having serious problems only after the two nearby Range gas wells were drilled.

While the video posted on YouTube was labeled "Hydraulic Fracturing turns gardenhose to flamethrower," neither the EPA nor the Lipskys have cited that drilling method as a cause of the water well contamination.

Source: Star-Telegram


Comment by TXsharon on February 22, 2012 at 2:01pm

I know that no one here in this forum will listen or even consider the other side but the video is not deceptive and I am confident that this ruling will be overturned in appeals.

If you watch the video you will see the owner never claims that he is setting his water on fire. He makes it very clear that the water is coming from the white pvc pipe and the hose, "not just a hose" is hooked up to the vent. He is trying to demonstrate that after 25 minutes of venting he amount of gas has not diminished.

I know that no one here will ever admit that there is any problem with your methods but claiming that there are never problems is unreasonable. No industry has a 100% track record. In the meantime, good people are having their lives turned upside down and because the industry does not make them whole you are creating waves of enemies. It doesn't have to be this way.

I lived for 16 years in Wise County where fracking the shale was first made profitable. I worked for the industry for 12 years. I don't know one single person who started out being opposed to this practice--NOT ONE. You have created your own mess by denying problems when they arise instead of making people whole when they are harmed.

Comment by Jack Dickerson on February 22, 2012 at 2:43pm

I have seen some strange things too in my career. The are simular acuation from around the world. I would like to see more study\ies done on this to eliminate and to prevent this problem.


Comment by Jack Dickerson on February 22, 2012 at 4:05pm

I am back in the oil and gas industry. I am a HSE Manager on several different projects. I have work offshore and on land. Refineries and pipelines ect.

Comment by Gene Finney III on February 22, 2012 at 4:30pm

A large part of the problem here is greed and lawyers. They see a "big" payday because all oil companies are rich and bad. I don't know anything about this particular incident, but I find $6.5 MILLION that the people are asking for damages a "little" excessive. Sharon keeps talking about being made whole again, just how many dollars does one need to be made "whole" again. I believe the Texas Railroad Commission is correct because my understanding is the gas was tested and found to be from the Strawn formation and the cement job could be and most likely has been tested. Just people looking for their 15 minutes of fame and a "big" payday!!

Comment by TXsharon on February 22, 2012 at 4:59pm

@blaineingram I don't work for industry anymore. I did oil and gas marketing when I did.

@Gene Finney III  Greed is a two way street here!  The landowners HAD a very nice home with several acres, a guest house and a boat house. They would be most happy if their water well didn't flame and they could go back to life as it was. But that can't happen now. $6.5 MILLION was the value of their property. So, if you work hard all your life and accumulate enough wealth to buy a nice place, then your water source is contaminated to the point where your home could explode and your home now has no value, what would be an appropriate settlement? Would you ask for half that, a third or would you want to be made whole?

What about Range Resources asking for $4.5 MILLION in damages to their reputation PLUS additional damages? It's nothing but an attempt to shut up victims by bullying.

Thermogenic testing showed the gas matched the gas produced from the Barnett but they also had some Strawn gas. Prior to the drilling and fracking activities, there was ZERO gas in their well. I've read everything about this case and attended a court hearing and read the depositions. It's clear that Range Resources drilled through shallow gas and didn't sufficiently case the well to prevent it from migrating. But they have all the money and legal teams.

Like I said, I don't expect people here to listen to a different side from where their paycheck originates. These were reasonable people who were all for domestic shale gas drilling. Now they don't think much of it. Keep blaming the victim and treating them badly and we will see what happens.

Comment by Tim Twichell on February 22, 2012 at 5:04pm

Methane has been in water wells all over the word since water wells have been used. These fools will try anything to smear something they don't have a clue about. We drilled 2,700 shallow gas wells in the Medina Sand here is western NY and north western PA all through the 1980's. Mostly all farmland and timber country.. I don't recall a single claim that our frac jobs or anything else we did caused any water well contamination.

Those wells were drilled between 2,500 and 3,500 feet... True, we only used vertical fracs and not anywhere the volume or pressure involved with deeper formations...Now with the Marcellus and Utica Shale we have to fight the greenie nuts that spew this same kind of hype and misinfromation. It will be interesting to see what the USA is like in twenty years if the clowns we have in government now stay in control... I think its going to be pretty sad. 

Comment by TXsharon on February 22, 2012 at 5:50pm

You're a real entertaining guy, Chris. You might want to read the documentation and the deposition of the petroleum engineers before you form an opinion. Otherwise yours is an uninformed, knee-jerk reaction. 

I "get it" that drilling has never, ever caused any water contamination and you guys never, ever make any mistakes and nothing ever breaks. Santa told me.

Comment by Drilling Ahead on February 22, 2012 at 7:25pm

That's ALWAY been your problem TxSharon-you have never looked for truth or objective answers-you have only looked for facts to twist to support your agenda. Even now with the Texas Railroad Commission finding the gas did not come from the Barnett and a United States Judge ruling against you and not a shred of evidence supporting your claims and still you continue spreading fear among those that don't understand oil and gas just to further your vendetta.

Personally I hope Range Resources makes an example with this case making false and misleading videos?  WOW-I would be surprised but I have followed the lies and tactics of your cause since the beginning.


Sorry I have not devoted much time in a response here-it's just I have never found your "cause" worthy of much time. You and others like you have divided much of America with your lies and your phony "studies" and you have frightened many good people-personally i hope you and the others that did the video hoax get what you deserve.



Comment by Drilling Ahead on February 22, 2012 at 8:11pm

This is not a site for anti drilling propaganda and never will be. I would shut down before I go to the expense each month to host the lies and deceit that come from these people.

This topic is a news article that states that those involved purposely tried to deceive the public  to frighten and inflame them against drilling-These are the thoughts expressed by an impartial United States Judge. These people tried to extort money from a drilling company here with a hoax video and false claims-Now they are being sued for millions of dollars.

I have followed these pople for years and let their lies anger me in the past-now they are on the defense for their actions which by the way I personally consider to be criminal. If you are looking for TxSharons opinion please go to her site and you two can share all the anti oil propaganda you want.

As always this article is open for honest discussion-when it turns into a propaganda platform for the mouths of those that prey on the ignorance and fear of the public-then those posts as well as those that make them will be removed.

Comment by John Woods on February 22, 2012 at 8:20pm

Thank you Drilling Ahead for keeping up the good fight for us!!

Comment by Jimmy Durden on February 22, 2012 at 8:22pm

Well, wipe your tears and lets look at the side of how we want to live.  Oil, petroleum is in just about everything.  How do you want to live?  Hitch up the horse and buggie.  Stop using cars, even the electric cars.  Hybrid cars, what that means?  They still use petroleum...tires, plastics, lube, even in the batteries.  Not to mention, the electricity was made using something of a carbon fuel.  Carbon fuels & petroleum will be the main fuel forever or until it runs out.   Things happen and can be corrected, but not with the exchange of money.  Call off the law suits and let's get the broke fixed.


Comment by Ryan on February 22, 2012 at 10:10pm


I am sorry to break this to you make sure you are properly anchored in you computer chair. OK there has not and will not ever be ethics in the oilfield. You are fighting a losing battle WE own the board and WE play the game, you on the other hand spectate and benefit! We all know it for what it is, find a new hobby!

Oh and always remember.... every battle is won before it is ever fought!

Comment by Lerret on February 23, 2012 at 12:10am

I live 60 mi. N of Ft. Smith, AR. There is no gas production here. We are not within 40 miles of a commercial gas well nor within 140 miles of the Fayetteville shale or any "Fraccing". But I can show you perhaps 40 wells in the county where natural gas vents enough to pressure a water well.  In fact, just across the line in Colcord, OK about 25 years ago a girl I went to school with died when a vented wells got plugged up and built up gas in the well house. There was a deep freeze in the wellhouse, and when she went to the deep freeze the combination of opening the door which added oxygen, and then opening the freezer, which caused a spark as the compressor kicked on, the gas ignited and she inhaled the vapors. It burned her lungs and she died in a Tulsa hospital.

It is certainly possible that there is contamination but the presence of natural gas in water wells is as common as toast.  But "shale gas" or gas from a simple stringer of sand in the water zone is far more common that contamination.  And having drank the well water in Erath Co, I know that there is  on small amount of naturally occuring gases in such wells.

As a member of NARO we have been monitoring this in the Fayetteville but only a few instances of gas in wells has been reported and the bulk of contamination issues related to poor handling of surface wastes here. 

When I was mudlogging, I used to test my own instruments by dropping a gas line into a shallow (120') well in my yard.  I invariably got a small reading although it was too small to really affect the taste.  Virtually all our shallow wells are in the Mississippian or what is equivalent to the Woodford (called Chattanoga here) and the medium wells were "Arbuckle" (500~ FT) and the Roubidox (1100-2000') wells which really stuff with sulfur sometimes. All of them produce some gas and in some areas quite a bit...enough to run a home or a chicken house.

I agree with the judge that deceptive and non-engineered efforts are great for sensationalizing environmental issues but the facts and such tactics are not remotely connected.  It is easy to demonize the industry.  And certainly such pollution can occur, but the fact they would even ask for that kind of damages suggests they were not just interested in restoring good water to the property. They viewed the gas company as a cash cow to be milked.  I bet their whole property isn't worth a fraction they asked for.

Comment by Steve on February 23, 2012 at 10:42am

To TxSharon: Mam you should be honored to even getting a response from this site i,m impressed of the restrained responses from Drilling Ahead members. Even after judges ruling and court order and responses from professionals in their fields. You still don't "fracking" get it !!! They say the definition of "Insanity" is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result ???

Comment by Tom Bates on February 23, 2012 at 9:07pm


Comment by Jay Brown on February 24, 2012 at 10:33am

I am from Parker County.  $6.5 mill buys a lot of stuff here.  When I water welled, back when things were slow, the company I worked for did pretty well drilling to the Glen Rose & Pauluxy because of problems with Woodbine wells.  Now the wells were farther east of here, however, I remember my grandfather talking about cistern fires from his time.  This whole episode does raise big questions on the water situation, and I would extend my research on this, if the TRRC had not done this for me.

As far the next step, have you tried personal injury?  The roughneck that got his package cut off from the mud bucket (I'm pretty sure) is a myth and McDonald's coffee has already been done.



Comment by Pamela Harry on March 4, 2012 at 12:04pm

In Hardin County TX area, you CAN'T extinguish a match by placing it under water well water or you might get a flare. You also better not light a match in your water well shed or you could fry your eyebrows off like one lady I heard of. There's no fracking anywhere near there.

FACT: Shallow gas comes with water wells.

If these people are not trying to sensationalize the issue and run a scam, then why does the judge say they are?


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