My dear friend, Laura Paskus, wrote another one of her powerful essays, Curiosity Prevails Over Despair. While Laura feels despair over the affects of climate change and the spoilage by reckless development of her favorite childhood forest area, her young daughter, driven by curiosity, finds many things to celebrate among the spoilage.
I held that image yesterday when my alarm when off at 5:00 AM and as I drove over two hours in crushing traffic to the Weatherford, Texas 43rd District Court to attend a hearing on Range Resources’ plea to jurisdiction. If the judge rules in Range Resources’ favor, the Big Gas Mafia will be untouchable in Texas. To read more about this case click on the ISEO category and click through several pages to the beginning.
When I was about nine, my pediatrician warned my mother that I would be one who dragged home stray puppies and fought for the underdog in society. I remember that conversation vividly. How could he know such a thing about me by looking in my ears and listening to my heartbeat? I’ve always wondered why championing the underdog should require a warning.
Okay. I will own that. I fight for the underdog. But, I’m also curious as all get out and I’m driven by the desire to leave behind a world that is habitable for Laura’s daughter, Reilly Ruggiero, Emma Parr, my sons and all your children, even the Gashole’s children.
It was curiosity that drove me to pay a lot of money–$1.00 per page–for the court documents out of my own pocketbook. That is part of my contribution to this cause. You can make your contribution here—help me help you.
The Cliff Notes version of the plea to jurisdiction, as I understand it, goes like this (I am not an attorney so this is a layperson’s understanding.):
- The Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) called for a hearing to determine if Range Resources contaminated or contributed to the contamination of the Lipsky water well. (NOTE: TRC Chairman, Elizabeth Ames Jones, did not recuse herself from this case despite the fact that she has a clear conflict of interest.)
- Since the Lipskys’ received the hearing notice with only threefive weeks to prepare a case, their attorneys called for a hearing to dismiss the Lipsky’s as a party to the hearing.
- You are not bound by a court decision to which you were not a party.
- Range Resources spent $3 million preparing for this hearing. What regular citizen can shell out $3 million to prepare a case in only three weeks?
- The TRC RULED that the Lipsky’s were not a party to the hearing.
- Range Resources objected to the ruling but the TRC upheld their RULING.
- Range Resources did not appeal the decision—they could have.
- The TRC held the hearing and RULED that Range Resources did not cause or contribute to the contamination of the Lipsky water well. (They did not hear the Lipskys’ evidence because of the PRIOR RULING that the Lipskys were not a party.)
- Range Resources did not object to that ruling.
- Range Resources filed a motion for a plea to jurisdiction that the TRC ruling at the hearing settled the matter and any civil proceedings would be a COLLATERAL ATTACK.
- Lipsky’s attorneys filed a response pointing out that the Lipskys cannot be bound by that ruling because they were not a party to the hearing. Therefore they did not get to present their evidence.
- Range Resources wants the ruling in #6 to stand because they like that ruling but they don’t want the ruling in #3 to stand because they don’t like that one at all.
- If the judge finds in Range Resources’ favor the Big Gas Mafia in Texas will be virtually untouchable in any cases of water contamination.
Are you with me?
Here are a few of my favorite moments from yesterday’s hearing:
The attorney for Range Resources, we’ll call him Smarmy, elaborated in great detail about how “abundantly clear” it is that the area has “angular and nonconforming and unpredictable geology” with many natural pathways for gas to migrate. (see Statewide Rule 13 and Statewide Rule 7 and Shortcomings of Statewide Rule 13)
The judge may be from a small Texas town but he is astute and seemed unimpressed with Range Resources’attorney and his “reputation for being skilled in these cases.” He wondered aloud if there is no problem, then why would all these people (about 24 all sitting on the Lipsky side) show up in his tiny courtroom. So he asked about the well casing and wanted to know how the toluene got in the Lipsky’s water. (Toluene does not occur naturally in water and is associated with fracking.)
NOTE: Here is something that many of you may not know: Natural gas wells are not cased all the way down. Statewide rules only require casing to go 200’ below potable water. I don’t know how far down the potable water is in Parker County but in Denton County it’s about 800’. Most Barnett Shale wells are 8,000’ to 12,000’ deep. As you can see, that leaves a lot of area exposed and makes a perfect pathway for migration.
The attorney quickly pointed out that Range Resources’ cementing job complies with TRC rules and the open space is actually filled up with drilling mud.
- Range Resources was “abundantly” aware that the geology in that area is “unpredictable” yet they cut corners and only did the bare minimum required under TRC rules.
- Drilling mud contains toluene.
Another favorite moment came when Smarmy showed video clips from the deposition of the Lipsky expert, Wayman Travis Gore, Jr., who is with PGH engineers, a petroleum engineering firm. The video clips were edited to only include a portion of Gore’s answer. The judge was not impressed with the editing job and asked for the full deposition so he could see what part was edited out.
First a little background: There is some naturally occurring methane in some of the water wells in that area of Parker County. A picture of a water well near the Lipsky’s that is flaring off gas has been passed around a lot by the Big Gas Mafia. That water well was drilled into a pocket of gas so essentially it was a gas well not a water well. The Lipsky’s was a water well until Range Resources drilled near them. Now it is a gas well.
My curiosity kicked in and I had to get the Gore deposition to see what was edited out and it is “abundantly clear” that Smarmy exercised poor judgment in including this clip.
Here is what Smarmy showed us:
Q: Is it possible that some of the natural gas, other than the natural gas in the Lipsky water well, is occurring naturally?
A: I think, based upon the tests that were conducted that showed small amounts of natural gas in the other water wells, I think it would be reasonable to conclude that some small amount might be in the Lipsky well naturally.
Here is the complete answer:
A: I think, based upon the tests that were conducted that showed small amounts of natural gas in the other water wells, I think it would be reasonable to conclude that some small amount might be in the Lipsky well naturally. Not to the—I mean, clearly, the condition of the well as I understand it, and the quantity of gas that’s there, it is more than just a small amount; it’s a lot.
So, could a very small part of that be part of some natural occurrence unrelated, perhaps. But I think, given what we’ve discussed here today, that the only logical explanation to me that will explain what is occurring at the Lipsky well is due to the completion and lack of surface casing in the Teal and the Butler wells.
And here’s a little more from the Gore depo:
Q: Is it possible—is it possible that the natural gas in the Lipsky water well, all of it, is occurring naturally? Is it possible?
A: I think the possibility would be so remote that I would venture to say that it would not be possible, given the contrast between the performance of the Lipsky well and the other wells that we know about.
So, while—is it possible? I think it would—I think it would be so low that it would be unreasonable to—kind of going back to more likely than not, I don’t think that would be a reasonable conclusion.
Is there some slight minute possibility? Perhaps. But I really don’t think that would be reasonable.
Smarmy also gave the aquifer drawdown excuse and I’ve already been over that one.
I think the judge feels the weight of this decision. He talked about a moral and ethical decision but also said he is bound by law. He thought both sides made compelling cases. He asked the Lipsky attorneys for some additional material. He will make his decision in early January.
On December 19, 2011, there will be a hearing on the Range Resources counter suit that is essentially a SLAPP suit against the Lipskys and Alisa Rich.
UPDATE: Another example of Range Resources cutting corners: Here’s the poop on Range Resources’ toxic spill in the Barnett Shale.