A lawsuit filed by Range Resources Corp. against a Texas couple that accused the company of contaminating its drinking water may proceed, said the Texas Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, which found that the lawsuit does not run afoul of a state law against litigation intended to stifle public protest.
Landowners Steven and Shyla Lipsky sued Range last year, claiming that the company’s gas drilling activities, including hydraulic fracturing, contaminated their well water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an administrative order that said Range was responsible for the contamination. However, the EPA ultimately ended up backing down from its claim (see Shale Daily, April 2). The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) and Range had contended all along that gas found in the Lipsky well came from a shallower gas-bearing formation than the one targeted by Range in the Barnett Shale of North Texas.
Range counter-sued the Lipskys and their environmental consultant, Alisa Rich of Wolf Eagle Environmental. Range said the Lipskys and Rich conspired to incriminate the company. Range said in its lawsuit that Rich conspired with the Lipskys’ to do an end-run around the RRC, which already was investigating the alleged well contamination, to gain an audience with the EPA, which Rich believed would be more sympathetic to their cause.
“Rich’s actions, with which the Lipskys agreed, approved, and/or acquiesced, resulted in losses to Range, and therefore its shareholders, in an amount in excess of $3 million…in expenditures and other harm to its business reputation,” Range stated.
The Lipskys had sought to have the counter-suit thrown out, saying it violated a Texas law that prohibits “strategic lawsuits against public participation. However, Judge Trey Loftin of Weatherford, TX, sided with Range in February. In the latest action, the Second District Court of Appeals said it did not have jurisdiction to overturn Loftin’s ruling. It said it would hear a petition for an order to block the lower court from enforcing Loftin’s ruling.
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