The Texas Supreme Court ruled that an oil and gas company can go ahead and sue an anti-fracking activist for defamation, because of course it did. Steve Lipsky is the Parker County homeowner famous for being able to light his water on fire after Range Resources started fracking near his property. He's been very outspoken about his flammable water on Facebook, in the media, the Gasland films and in a civil suit he filed against Range in 2011. His case got tossed and the company counter-sued Lipsky and his wife for $3 million, accusing him of defamation. Lipsky filed a motion to dismiss the suit, but the Texas Supreme Court just ruled that nope, sorry, the case against Lipsky can go forward. In an opinion delivered Friday, Justice John P. Devine wrote that "homeowner Steve Lipsky has portrayed Range as incompetent, even reckless, as a gas producer, thereby injuring the company's reputation."
Sure, there's scientific evidence suggesting that Lipksy's portrayal of Range is a least somewhat justified. But in this lawsuit, Range is the real victim. As Justice Devine explains:
Environmental responsibility is an attribute particularly important to those in the energy industry -- none more so than natural gas producers, such as Range, who employ horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in their business. Accusations that Range's fracking operations contaminated the aquifer thus adversely affect the perception of Range's fitness and abilities as a natural gas producer.
Sure, Range didn't offer a whole lot of proof that Lipsky's activism actually hurt the company's business, the court acknowledged, but it offered enough to satisfy the court.
In fact, Range Resources has come out pretty good in all of this. Though the Environmental Protection Agency years ago said Range was at fault for the contamination of the Lipksy family's water well, the EPA dropped the case when more oil-friendly Texas regulators ruled that Range had nothing to do with the flammable water. In 2013, the EPA finally acknowledged that it was right all along to implicate Range Resources, at which point it was too late to make much of a difference.
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Range Resources also tried to sue Lipky's wife and a toxicologist he had hired for defamation, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the suit against them isn't valid, so at least being married to an anti-fracking activist isn't a sue-able offense. The full opinion is below:
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.