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Exclusive: Battle Over Flaming Water and Fracking Reignites As Analysis Prompts Call for Renewed EPA Investigation

At the heart of the international controversy over fracking has been the contention that the oil and gas drilling technique can contaminate people’s drinking water, sometimes even causing it to light on fire. One poster child for this claim has been Steven Lipsky, a Texas homeowner who has appeared in a viral video with a garden hose spewing flames and says his water was fouled by fracking.

For years, Mr. Lipsky has fought legal battles — most often with federal EPAinvestigators finding his claims of contamination credible, while Texas regulators and the drilling company, Range Resources, taking the opposite view.

An analysis released this week, describing research by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, may open this case once again. It offers new evidence that the tests taken at Mr. Lipsky’s well water by Range Resources and Texas regulators, who reported little or no contamination, were flawed and potentially inaccurate.

In the videotaped presentation, Zacariah Hildenbrand, a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Arlington, lays out a detailed case that the Lipsky family’s water carries high levels of contamination, including methane matching that found in the gas from two nearby Range Resources Barnett shale gas wells, and presents evidence that past test results reported by the Texas Railroad Commission and Range were not reliable.

Much of the research he describes in the video was conducted by a team from the University of Texas at Arlington, and Dr. Hildenbrand was later hired by Mr. Lipsky’s legal team to explain those findings on tape.

Dr. Hildenbrand’s research has broad implications not just because Mr. Lipsky has become something of an icon for the anti-fracking movement. The Lipsky case was also at the center of a jurisdictional showdown between Texas and the federal government, after the EPA stepped in and issued an emergency order over the water contamination, and then Texas pushed back and the EPA dropped its investigation.

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