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Texas Jury Awards Ranching Family Nearly $3 Million Dollars for Fracking Damages, While National Groundwater Association Position Paper Declares Fracking Safe

In a first–of-its-kind-ruling, the LA Times reported yesterday that a six-person Texas jury awarded almost $3,000,000 against a natural gas company whose drilling, a ranching family contended, caused debilitating sickness, memory problems, killed pets and livestock, and forced them out of their home. Other landowners have sued over fracking claims and drilling, but reached settlements. However, this appears to be the first reported case which has proceeded to judgment.

Plaintiffs Robert and Lisa Parr alleged that Aruba Petroleum’s drilling operations, not merely fracking, created health problems.  Aruba Petroleum, based in Plano, Texas, responded that it had operated within safe and legal guidelines, contending the plaintiffs were neither harmed by drilling operations nor was the value of their property diminished because of its natural gas development.

The verdict included $275,000 for the Parr’s property loss of market value, $2 million for past physical pain and suffering by the Parr family, $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering, and $400,000 for past mental anguish. The suit specifically sought compensation for intentionally causing a nuisance on the Parr’s property which impacted their health and ruined their drinking water.  Aruba Petroleum said it would appeal the verdict.

Environmentalists applauded the jury’s decision. “It’s a game-changing verdict that may have repercussions throughout the United States,” said Gary Wocker, an environmental advocate in Colorado who has pushed anti-fracking initiatives in a state that, like Texas and elsewhere in the West, has seen an explosion of drilling in recent years.

Opponents of fracking have warned of the dangers to people who live close to wells, either from contaminated water or air.  According to a Wall Street Journal analysis last year, more than 15 million people live within one mile of a fracked well.

For the complete story on the Texas case by Jenny Deam, Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times, refer to:

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-fracking-lawsuit-20140424,0,508199.story#axzz2zocxGFhJ

In a countervailing position, on April 15th the National Groundwater Association (“NGWA”) issued an updated position paper on oil and gas hydraulic fracturing. Defining the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing process as “a method where fluids are injected under very high pressures to create fractures that extend from a borehole hundreds of feet into surrounding rock formations,” the paper supports additional studies, field-based research, and groundwater monitoring while finding that currently no widespread water quality or quantity issues have been definitively documented that are attributable to the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing process itself. However, there have been several cases of water contamination related to oil and gas activities such as faulty casing installations, unsealed abandoned wells, or poor management of materials/chemicals at the surface.

The NGWA is the hallmark organization for anyone affiliated with the groundwater industry. A nonprofit organization, NGWA is composed of U.S. and international groundwater professionals, i.e., contractors, scientists and engineers, equipment manufacturers, and suppliers. Their announced purpose is to provide guidance to members, government representatives, and the public for sound scientific, economic, and beneficial development, protection, and management of the world’s groundwater resources.  For a further link to the NGWA study, refer to:

http://www.ngwa.org/Documents/PositionPapers/Hydraulic%20Fracturing%20Meeting%20Energy%20Needs.pdf

With attorneys experienced in the defense of a variety of federal and state environmentally related litigation, Spencer Fane’s complementing expertise in fracking and related matters can provide valuable direction to those faced with environmental claims.