If an angry homeowner-turned-environmental-activist keeps getting vindicated by research, but all the important government people just ignore it, does the research make a sound? Probably not.
Steve Lipsky, the homeowner in Parker County who became famous for being able to set his water on fire after Range Resources started drilling for natural gas nearby four years ago, has failed to get the government or the industry to do much for him in his crusade against fracking. (Choice quote from his Facebook page: "Why am I being sued for $4,000,000 ??"). Now, WFAA is reporting on new data that seems to finally draw a conclusive link between fracking and Lipsky's flammable water. If only it mattered.
Lipsky recently sent samples of his water to a lab called Isotech Laboratories. Dr. Zac Hildenbrand, a visiting scientist at UT-Arlington who analyzes water quality for a living, then agreed to look at the data to help Lipsky make sense of it. What Hildenbrand found was a lot of methane.
"It's the highest value I've ever seen," Hildenbrand tells Unfair Park. The numbers say that Lipsky's water contains 76 milligrams per liter of methane. For comparison, the federal government says any concentration above 10 milligrams per liter is unsafe because it could cause an explosion. In non-scientific terms -- kaboom!
Hildenbrand won't speculate on what caused that unusually high methane concentration. "I think that would be irresponsible of me to say at this time," he says. (He adds that he is collecting data for a UT-Austin study that will address that question later on).
But WFAA did reach two other researchers -- earth scientist Geoffery Thyne and soil scientist Bryce Payne -- who reviewed the Hildenbrand/Isotech findings, and said it appears that the nearby fracking is in fact to blame for the elevated methane. "Both Thyne and Payne believe these test results could represent the nation's first conclusive link between fracking and aquifer contamination," the station reports.
That's not as big of a deal as it seems. There's already been a decent amount of research drawing a link between fracking and water contamination. The key is getting people to listen. It was way back in 2011 when the feds first scientifically linked underground water pollution with fracking in Wyoming.
A study on Pennsylvania water published last August similarly found that people living near fracking wells were more at risk to have their water contaminated with methane.
And there have been enough complaints about the methane in Parker County that the Texas Railroad Commission this January agreed to reopen the investigation it had dismissed earlier.
But then, at the end of last month, the commission closed that investigation.
As for those ridiculously high methane levels that Hildenbrand recently found, the Texas Railroad Commission's response is basically, what numbers? Texas also came out with its own study on methane in Parker County water that conveniently put Lipsky's numbers much lower, at just 8.6 milligrams per liter of methane. The state told WFAA that it is standing by its own research.
Through all of this drama, Range Resources has found time last year to launch a lawsuit against Lipsky. Last August, the company won an appeals court's permission to pursue defamation and business disparagement claims against him.