Policy: Environment & Energy

'Gasland' scandal ignited at EPA

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Ron Arnold,Environment,Energy Department,Corruption,EPA,Lobbying,Analysis,Waste and Fraud,Energy and Environment

When the anti-fracking hoax-fest "Gasland Part II" premiered on HBO July 8, eco-filmmaker Josh Fox probably wasn't expecting explosive emails to surface exposing his fakery and how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency colluded with him in a campaign to destroy "fracking," the hydraulic fracturing technology that's making America energy independent.

Here are the facts:

In January, 2011, Josh Fox requested an interview with Dallas, Texas-based EPA regional director Alfredo Armendariz, who told his press secretary:

"It was good working with him for Gasland, and we try to keep in touch every so often. ... Let's propose to him an outdoor interview in FW [Fort Worth, Texas] somewhere, at a place where he can get good background shots."

For Armendariz to play assistant producer on Fox's deceptive shams is not surprising. He came to the EPA from WildEarth Guardians with rabid anti-hydrocarbon allegiances clearly sworn in advance.

This week, Washington Free Beacon's Lachlan Markay filed a story that helped me link the EPA to Fox and a group of his followers. The story explained how Fox, in his 2010 film Gasland, deceptively portrayed longtime natural methane seepage as a product of fracking.

"But a dramatic scene in 'Gasland Part II' was entirely contrived in an effort to falsely inflate the dangers of hydraulic fracturing," Markay told me.

HBO viewers thought they saw Steve Lipsky, a Parker County, Texas, home-owner, holding his garden hose belching fire from his methane-contaminated water well. The flaming water was terrifying and "Gasland Part II" blamed it on fracking done by Range Resources, a Fort Worth-based shale gas driller.

What viewers actually witnessed was Lipsky holding a hose secretly connected to a gas vent, not a water line. This fraud came out in a lawsuit filed by Steven and Shyla Lipsky against Range for $6.5 million in the 43rd State District Court of Texas. The Lipskys claimed two Range natural gas wells contaminated their water well with methane.

Transcripts of that trial and the order of District Court Judge Trey E. Loftin unfolded an incredible web of conniving and conspiracy between Fox's followers and the EPA. Their idea was not just to attack Range with a lawsuit, but to crush it with litigation and an EPA shutdown.

Lipsky made the false video under advice of anti-fracking consultant Alisa Rich of Wolf Eagle Environmental, who called it a "strategy." Lipsky came to know Rich and Sharon Wilson of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project through Fox's Gasland website.

The OGAP is a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks ($1.3 million 2011 income, according to its latest IRS 990 tax return), and was merged into Earthworks by Seattle software millionaire Paul Brainerd's foundation ($27.9 million in assets in 2011).

Rich, Wilson and Armendariz were long-time acquaintances who previously worked together. Lipsky sent the EPA his phony flaming hose video, while Wilson coordinated a propaganda surge against Range. Wilson also recruited other Big Green allies for the effort.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Armendariz issued an emergency EPA order against Range, contending that two of its Barnett Shale gas wells "caused or contributed" to contamination of water wells belonging to Lipsky and a neighbor. Armendariz informed his activist allies before telling Range.

OGAP's Wilson sent Armendariz a jubilant "Yee haw! Hats off to the new Sheriff and his deputies!" She copied her email to the Environmental Defense Fund, WildEarth Guardians and Public Citizen.

Range fought the EPA for a year and a half before it was settled, but not before Armendariz resigned for boasting that he "crucified" drillers to make them an example, like the Romans allegedly did in newly conquered provinces.

It all fell apart when Judge Loftin dismissed the Lipsky case, ruling that Range was the victim of a conspiracy.

I asked Range Resources General Counsel David Poole about the ordeal:

"Fortunately, EPA headquarters eventually looked at the overwhelming facts and fully withdrew the order, which was the right thing to do and we commend them for it. Unfortunately, the actions of the former administrator probably frightened a lot of people and Parker County deserves better."

So does the rest of America.

Washington Examiner columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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