Fossil Fuel Industry Attacking Our Rights In Court

Two recent court cases filed by the fossil fuel industry threaten free speech in the US.
Two recent court cases filed by the fossil fuel industry threaten free speech in the US.

In 2010, shortly after Range Resources began fracking in the Barnett Shale, Steve Lipsky discovered that water from streams and wells on his property could be lit on fire. Lipsky, recorded video and uploaded it to youtube. He was soon interviewed by local media, and later appeared in the documentary film, Gasland II.

But Range Resources wants Lipsky to shut up about water contamination on his property. So much so, that the company, which claims to ‘foster good relationships within the community,’ is suing Lipsky for ‘defamation’. If he loses, the suit could cost him $3 million dollars.

And that’s not the only major concern this suit presents. Lipsky had private tests done on the water and the air on his property,in order to determine if there was contamination. He also sought help from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA originally agreed that Range Resources was responsible for the contamination on Lipsky’s property. They ordered the Range Resources to provide drinking water for him and another neighbor, whose property was also contaminated.

Range Resources is accusing Lipsky?and the third party that tested the water and air on his property, of contriving “a scheme to bypass Texas authority and use the EPA to attack Range’s drilling operations.” In other words, Range is saying that land owners do not have the right to test the air and water quality on their own property, and/or to contact the Environmental Protection Agency for assistance.

If the company were to win this case, the ramifications could be incredibly wide spread. As Lipsky’s lawyer explains in a recent interview with Al Jazeera, a ruling in favor of Range would “basically allow corporations to silence public participation.”

The Texas case is not the only case that has been recently brought by the fossil fuel industry, that threatens every citizen’s right to free speech.

Another company, Buckeye Brine, located in Ohio, is suing?Ohio resident Mike Boals, for renting billboards that warn people about the dangers of fracking. One of the billboards lists the names of people involved in the fracking industry, as well as the names of government officials supporting it, saying they:

“pump POISONED WATERS under the feet of America’s Citizens. The waters come from Shale Oil and Gas development that contaminates and destroys America’s water.?

A second billboard contracted by Boals?reads:

“Death may come,” and is followed by a verse from the Christian Bible.

Boals has rented the signs, located near a Buckeye Brine deep injection well site, from a local billboard company. In the suit, Buckeye Brine is claiming the billboards amount to:

defamation, wrongful interference with contractual relations, business disparagement, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Buckeye Brine is asking the judge to order that the signs be taken down, and that the company be compensated for damages, by awarding them an undisclosed amount of money from Boals.

If the Buckeye Brine were to win this case, it could amount to a near complete suppression of the voices of their critics. It’s unlikely that a ruling in favor of the company would extend only to billboards. It could be used to stop people from putting up flyers, handing out literature or displaying anti-fracking signs of any kind. If you can’t put an anti-fracking message on a rented billboard, where can you put one?

Combined, these cases would equal a near total loss of speech by citizens speaking out against the fossil fuel industry. The Texas case could prevent citizens from even suggesting that fossil fuel company is responsible for damage to their property. The Ohio suit could keep people from putting up any type of sign that expresses any opinion that differs from the one the fossil fuel industry wants people to hear. The Texas case could prevent all types of media interviews, recording or publicizing video showing damage caused by the fossil fuel industry, conducting private testing on the air and water on your own land, and possibly even bar citizens from contacting the EPA, if ?they believe a problem is not being handled appropriately by state regulators.

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