Gas Company Goes After Fire-Breathing-Hose Blogger

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pointshoot/2522127536/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Eddie~S</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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.

It’s a fairly complicated back story, but it raises some concerns. For one, should a company be able to sue individuals for raising concerns to the EPA? And second, should the company be able to obtain correspondence between those individuals and an outside blogger? To make things more complicated, Wilson now works for the Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project, which the judge used to argue that she should not be afforded any protections as a journalist and thus needs to hand over the emails.

It’s certainly a case worth watching. Here’s the video that got the whole thing started:

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest