Welcome to Steve Lipsky’s nightmare: Flaming well water

Welcome to his nightmare: Flaming well water by Brett Shipp, February 13, 2014, WFAA
Water on fire
Photo Credit: WFAA, Steve Lipsky demonstrated for WFAA how water coming from his underground well can be ignited.

PARKER COUNTY — Parker County homeowner Steve Lipsky, accused of conspiring against a powerful gas exploration company, is speaking out. A judge ruled last year that Lipsky misled the public by trying to fool the public into believing his well water could catch on fire. Now that homeowner wants the public to hear his story and witness his nightmare for themselves. It all started with a video clip posted on YouTube. Grainy images from a home video recorder showed Lipsky holding a garden hose, hooked up to his water well, proving a point. The aquifer beneath his house was so polluted with methane, he could light emissions from the well on fire. The video went viral. Administrators with the Environmental Protection Agency caught wind and stepped in, tested the well, and blamed a gas drilling company — Range Resources — for pollution.

Lipsky sued Range Resources, but a local judge tossed out the case, calling the video “deceptive.” State regulators with the Texas Railroad Commission agreed, and ruled that Range was not to blame for any methane contamination of Lipsky’s well. At that point, the EPA backed off the case and agreed to work with Range on a testing program. That left Lipsky alone to fight a $4 million lawsuit filed by Range Resources against him. “This has been a nightmare,” he said. “I would not wish this on my worst enemy.”

Having exhausted most of his resources and energy, Lipsky says he has only one weapon left — and WFAA is the first television crew to witness it. Over and over, Lipsky demonstrated how it was possible to ignite a brilliant orange and blue plume of methane gas streaming from a pipe attached to his water well head, designed specifically to let volumes of gas in his well to escape. What the drilling company, Range Resources, contended — and the judge agreed — was that Lipsky deliberately tried to make the public believe that his water was flammable. But Lipsky says the garden hose in the video was only a temporary venting mechanism. “This was where the hose was hooked up,” Lipsky told WFAA as he demonstrated. “It’s hooked up to the head space of the well, and that’s where the hose was always hooked up, and we never said it was anything but that.”

The well water — coming from a long white PVC pipe attached to the well head — is so laced with methane it can be seen actually catching on fire.
“So you can’t say it’s the PVC burning… you see, it’s going up the water,” Lipsky said. “It’s actually going up. See? There it goes.” EPA tests have shown that Lipsky’s well is contaminated with not only dangerous levels of methane, but also other cancer-causing toxins such as benzene and toluene. Lipsky said investigators with the Texas Railroad Commission were the first to warn him of the dangers. “They told me if I hadn’t had it disconnected and left it going on the way it was, that it probably would have been catastrophic,” Lipsky remembered. “They said my house would have blown up with all the gas accumulating.”

Lipsky said he discovered methane in his water a few months after Range Resources drilled a gas well about a half mile from his house. Range Resources has always claimed its drilling has had no impact on the underground aquifer, and that the methane in Lipsky’s well is occurs naturally. According to the Texas Railroad Commission, water wells in the area have had natural gas in them for many years. In the end, Lipsky said he is left with a legal bill, a contaminated well, and a mystery that may never be solved. “Here I am getting dragged through the coals, and all I had was my water became contaminated, and I just want to know the truth,” Lipsky said. [Emphasis added]

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