In Fight Over Flammable Parker County Water Well, Judge Decides Who Is, Isn't A Journalist
Tricky work deciding who gets the protections of a journalist in court. In the case of a natural gas production company suing a Parker County man who blames it for contaminating his water well, state district Judge Trey Loftin attempted to suss it out in a recent order compelling fracking blogger Sharon Wilson (known as Texas Sharon) to cough up personal emails pertaining to the case.
"They have this thing in there where I have to turn over all communications from 2005 with the word 'range' in it," Wilson says. "And that's absurd. They're trying to build their intelligence database, and I'm not gonna turn over a bunch of people who might have emailed me a newspaper article."
Wilson's is one of the big voices in the Barnett Shale. Her blog often features videos, shot by herself and others, revealing the prodigious emissions of flowback operations, or the dangers of drill-site spills of fracking fluids flowing back out of wells -- the ugly, dirty side of an industry hidden in plain sight on county back roads. Is it the proportion of her income that excludes her from the practice of journalism, as Loftin concludes? Her lack of a background in journalism? Her lack of "objectivity?"
Then we can rule out Fox News and much of the conservative and liberal blogosphere, can't we?
Even if Wilson's blog does, in fact, disseminate newsworthy information (I don't always agree with her, but the blog is definitely plugged in) Loftin says that "interests in discovering the truth and in the fair administration of justice are substantial and outweigh any interests in the gathering and dissemination of news."
The truth and justice being sought (subject of a recent cover story) is for Fort-Worth based natural gas producer Range Resources and its ongoing defamation suit against Steve Lipsky, a Parker County man who says Range's production activities turned his once-functional water well into a flamethrower. Range says Lipsky's accusations were part of a grand scheme to sully its reputation, and that Wilson, who posted on her blog the video of a flaming hose attached to Lipsky's water wellhead, was a willing accomplice. Her alleged communications with Lipsky, the EPA and Lipsky's environmental consultant, Alisa Rich, Range argues, could provide ammunition for its case.
"[Loftin] decided I was a central figure in this conspiracy and it would be a lot easier for Range to get the stuff they need from the EPA and the DOJ and (the Government Accountability Office) from me rather than by doing open records requests to those agencies, which would inconvenience Range," Wilson said.
A state appeals court in Fort Worth is currently considering whether Range's defamation suit against Lipsky is a violation of the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, intended only to silence him with lengthy and expensive litigation. While Range discovery against Lipsky is out of bounds for now, non-parties like Wilson are fair game.