That’s fracking unbelievable… Except oddly true

After Weatherford, Texas resident Steve Lipsky discovered in 2010 that he could light his property’s well water on fire, he uploaded several videos of it onto YouTube. He now faces a $4.2 million defamation lawsuit from Range Resources, the fracking company that Lipsky and his wife, Shyla, accuse of being responsible for their methane-contaminated well water. (The Lipskys themselves sued Range Resources for $6.5 million in 2011, although a judge later dismissed their suit, claiming that Steve Lipsky and an environmentalist whom he worked with on the videos intentionally produced “deceptive” material that was meant to fool the public and Environmental Protective Agency investigators. Moreover, the judge claimed that the Lipskys failed to provide enough evidence proving that Range Resources was responsible.)

The countersuit against Lipsky, which will be heard by the Texas Supreme Court this December, represents just one among many legal disputes in recent years involving fracking companies and their detractors. Another lawsuit against Range Resources was brought about by Chris and Stephanie Hallowich, a Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania couple who alleged that gas drilling in the nearby Marcellus shale formation harmed their farm and the health of their family. Unlike with the Lipskys, however, Ranged Resources settled with the Hallowiches for a reported $750,000, but not without placing a controversial (and legally questionable) lifetime gag order on them against ever discussing the case in the future.

In the eyes of anti-fracking activists, these types of lawsuits amount to little more than deep-pocketed energy companies using their financial clout to intimidate and silence their opponents. “If we’re going to allow companies to sue people for defamation every time they don’t like what’s being said, then that basically allows corporations to silence public participation,” Joe Sibley, Steve Lipsky’s attorney, said. A similar case in Ohio involved a Texas-based well-owning company suing the renter of two anti-fracking billboards for promoting false and defamatory information. Michael Boals, the Coshocton man who leased the billboards, agreed to remove the signs rather than face legal action.

What do you think? Who are really the guilty parties here? And what is there (legally) to do about it?