How One Man’s Flaming Water Fired Up a Battle Between Texas and the EPA, Steve Lipsky’s epic battle and what it means for the future of fracking

How One Man’s Flaming Water Fired Up a Battle Between Texas and the EPA, Steve Lipsky’s epic battle and what it means for the future of fracking by Brantley Hargrove, April 26, 2012, Dallas Observer
Steve Lipsky gripped a garden hose and held it at arm’s length, staring as a guttering tongue of fire poured from its end and grew another foot before his eyes. Alisa Rich of Wolf Eagle Environmental backed Steve Lipsky’s claim that gas drilling had contaminated his drinking water. Shawn Scott, fire marshal in Parker County, witnessed Lipsky’s flaming water in 2010. … Since at least Christmas the year before, Lipsky would testify later, his submersible pump had coughed, sputtered and struggled to fill a 5,000-gallon holding tank with water. He hired a well-service tech to replace the pump, but found a very different problem: natural gas, and lots of it. For months Lipsky had felt as though something was wrong with him. He was often fatigued and nauseated. In panicked moments, he feared he was dying of cancer. Perhaps this would explain it all — the pump, the tap water that foamed, the flaming hose. Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott was the first authority to see the fire trick. … “Mr. Lipsky turned on the valve at the top of the wellhead and said, ‘Watch this,'” Scott recalls. Water gushed from the wellhead. A few flicks of a lighter, and water and flame poured forth together. Scott, a good-natured but level-headed hulk, ordered him to snuff it out immediately. Lipsky turned, and the growing flame swept the wellhead, accidentally igniting a second fire. “That got us both a little stirred up there because now we got an uncontrolled flame coming from the top of the water well,” Scott says. … Even before she had finished sampling on August 17, 2010, Rich was worried. Lipsky’s tap water effervesced like Alka-Seltzer. It made her glass sampling containers slippery, as though it had been spiked with lubricant. More than a week later, lab results bolstered her suspicions: His well had been polluted by nearby fracking operations, she believed. Rich advised Lipsky to stop using the water. His wife, Shyla, and their 18-month-old, and 6- and 7-year-old children should stay away, she told him. Gas could be building up inside the house. Lipsky moved into the guest house and stopped using the water. His wife and children extended their routine summer stay with her parents in Graham. Meanwhile, the results of water quality tests performed by the Railroad Commission came in. They found levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, above the threshold limit for drinking water. Yet the agency did not act, nor did it have an answer yet for the fire Lipsky could ignite. But he and Rich believed they did: It could be no coincidence, they thought, that the two gas wells beneath his home had been fracked just months before Lipsky first noticed his failing pump. Dissatisfied with the commission’s pace, Rich reached out to a contact with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With a single phone call, another kind of blaze was set. [Emphasis added]

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