Steven Lipsky's phone was busy on the morning of Christmas Eve. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General had just released its report concluding the EPA was justified in intervening to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing in Weatherford, Texas, despite assertions to the contrary from the oil and gas industry and Congressional Republicans.
In 2010, Mr. Lipsky alerted the agency to his contaminated well water and the fact that he could light his water on fire. An EPA investigation determined that Range Resources' hydraulic fracturing activities caused the contamination.
Six Republican senators had quickly initiated an investigation of the report, questioning the agency's motivation and the validity of its findings.
According to the Associated Press, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has dismissed the Inspector General's report confirming that the EPA was justified in issuing an Emergency Order to Range Resources, the drilling company. But others, including Sharon Wilson, Gulf Regional Organizer for environmental group Earthworks, filmmaker Josh Fox and former EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz see the report as vindication of the EPA and Steven Lipsky.
So does Mr. Lipsky feel vindicated? No, he does not, and he says he won't until the entire story is told and the truth is completely revealed. Additionally, Lipsky wants to see an end to the $3 million defamation lawsuit filed by Range Resources against him.
When I spoke to Lipsky on Christmas day, he told me the findings in the Inspector General report are just the tip of the iceberg. His neighbors are still in a perilous situation and no specific actions are being taken to provide a remedy for explosive contaminates in their water.
Steven Lipsky speaks out about the dangers facing his neighbors:
Here is an abridged version of my interview with Steven Lipsky:
Do you think the Inspector General’s report was released right before Christmas in hope that it wouldn't get much media traction?
Absolutely! Come on! I don't know who is responsible for the timing, but the report was released when most reporters aren't working. By the time they get back to work, it will be old news.
People are writing that this report vindicates you, yet you have stated you don't feel vindicated yet. What more must take place for you to have a sense of vindication?
I give the Inspector General credit for this report. It is the first positive thing that has happened in the last couple of years. It's a start, but when the entire truth is told, that is when I'll be vindicated. Our family has been through a tough time, but that is not in the report.
The report cites the financial reasons the EPA rescinded its emergency order, but it doesn't bring up the role political pressure played. The EPA didn't have the money to do the right thing? Though the scientific tests they ran show Range Resources contaminated the area's water, they back away from their emergency order though circumstances have not changed? That is political pressure not financial
This report notes one of the reasons the EPA lifted the emergency order is because I found another water source for my family. So if you have $100,000 of your own money to protect yourself, you don't need the EPA's help? What kind of conclusion is that? It is political.
The EPA no longer needed to protect you after you took preemptive measures to safeguard your family and have water trucked in. What is your reaction to that?
I hope anyone whose water gets contaminated by industry has the money to do what I did. I found an alternative solution to using my water well out of necessity and common sense.
I had to find a way I could live in my house without endangering my family. I could not afford to walk away from my house. I still have mortgage payments to make.
The EPA stood back when I was sued by Range Resources for over $3 million and did nothing about it. Range Resources has accused me of libel and the EPA knows it is not true.
Just because I can afford to pay for my own water, should they step aside?
You sued Range Resources after the EPA concluded the company was responsible for contaminating your well. When the EPA later rescinded their order, what was the impact on your case?
They made me the sacrificial lamb.
I'm not a scientist, but when the EPA did isotopic testing, which is like finger printing for contaminants, and told me the guilty party was Range Resources, I sued. I trusted the proof they came up with.
When the EPA rescinded their order they never contacted me to explain. They just left me hanging. I found out through the media. Basically the whole basis of my case was that the government said Range Resources did it.
The EPA's explanation for rescinding the order now helps nothing. The way I interpret EPA’s rationale is, A) We don't have the money to do the right thing; B) You have clean water now even though you paid to get it with your own money; C) We think the better thing to do with our money rather than stand up to Range Resources is to do a cooperative study with them.
It turns out the EPA's sacrifice didn't get them what they were promised. Range Resources hasn't given them the access they need to do the planned testing, as far as I know.
The report states: The EPA believes the risks to homeowners in the area have been reduced. However you have seen recent test results to the contrary from an ongoing Duke University study, and tests of your own done with the same testing equipment industry uses. The new data shows things are more dangerous than ever for your neighbors. Are you surprised this report didn't reflect the current test results you have shared with the agency?
The Inspector General didn't review the new tests. I went to the EPA a few months ago, to Lisa Feldt, and gave her documents and video of everything that show that the Texas Railroad Commission still isn't doing its job. The EPA has all the numbers from Duke and from tests done with Stacey Systems equipment which meets the industry standards that prove it is still a dangerous situation here.
So, in fact, your neighbors are not safe?
Absolutely, they remain in danger. And whenever I re-hooked up my own well to check the readings, they are higher than ever.
Your case is not the only one the EPA backed away from. They did similar things in Dimock, Pennsylvania, and Pavillion, Wyoming. Why do you think the agency is backing away from their own findings when it comes to the effects hydraulic fracturing has on private property?
Politics. And limited resources. Without naming names, so as not to cause trouble for anyone, I can tell you a person in the EPA told me it isn’t about Range Resources. It is about the entire oil and gas coalition. The industry has the resources, and this is a battle the government couldn't afford to fight.
What toll has this fight taken and what you have learned from it?
This has been a nightmare. The world turned on me and it put me in a depression that almost killed me. It wasn't until I started getting the information from documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act giving me proof of what was going on that I began to feel better.
From the documents I have obtained, there's enough information for the guilty parties to hang themselves. So I've rolled my sleeves up. Enough is enough. I could give up and die, or do the right thing.
Every day I fight back, I get more information. I have enough information to give to the public so that they can see the truth. As long as I can get the truth to the public, things will change.
It might take years for all the facts to come to the surface, but they will. You can try to hide it or bury it, but the truth will emerge. So now that's my job: to make the world know the truth, to get this all to the public.
I'm not against all hydraulic fracturing. I'm not saying to shut it all down, but there needs to be regulations to protect people and their homes. When industry makes mistakes, they need to admit them, fix the damage, make things right, learn from them and not do it again.
People are in danger of losing their lives. The EPA needs to come out here and do the proper testing and see for themselves that these people, my neighbors, are in danger.
This is not a Steve Lipsky problem.
People were given false information: told the water is safe to drink and they are safe.
The intimidation from Range Resources is clearly working — that people haven't been told otherwise by a government agency shows this. Then releasing this report on Christmas Eve, purposely trying to keep this information down?
The gas company has the right to be arrogant because they have money, resources and political clout to do what ever they want to.
It's not enough to sit back and pray people in the government do the right thing. While they're getting their act together, I will keep fighting and get the truth out.
There is one thing in the report's conclusion that seems unclear. It says, “In its official comments and in subsequent meetings, the EPA agreed with and provided corrective actions that address our recommendations. All recommendations are resolved with corrective actions underway. No final response to this report is required.”
What corrective measures are those, since the emergency order was rescinded?
None that I'm aware of. I welcome them to come and stay in my guest house after I hook the well water back up to it. If there is no danger, why not?
Lipsky’s house in Weatherford, Texas ©2013 Julie Dermansky
Lipsky’s well water set ablaze ©2013 Julie Dermansky