In a first-of-its-kind hydraulic fracturing (fracking) nuisance lawsuit, a Dallas Jury Tuesday awarded a North Texas family $2.95 million for physical and mental pain as well as loss of property value due to activities by Barnett Shale producer Aruba Petroleum Inc.
Plaintiffs Robert and Lisa Parr had sought $9 million in damages and alleged that 22 wells operated by Plano, TX-based Aruba within two miles of their land, about 15 miles west of Denton, TX, exposed them to toxic gases and industrial waste. The Parrs said they were forced from their home at certain times and had to live in Robert Parr's office. The lawsuit said that exposure to volatile organic compounds from fracking made them sick and that the family's well water had been polluted.
Robert Parr testified that an environmental doctor had told family members that they had several neurotoxins in their blood that matched chemicals used in natural gas activities. His wife gave similar testimony.
"My doctor told me, and I quote, 'You'll spend more time and money on hospitals, chemotherapy and morticians if you remain in your home,'" Lisa Parr said in court.
The award, in Dallas County Court, did not include any exemplary damages as the jury did not find that Aruba had acted with malice.
A spokesman for attorneys representing Aruba told NGI's Shale Daily it was premature to talk about an appeal. Post-verdict motions challenging the ruling are planned, and an appeal is intended if a judgment is entered on the verdict.
"The facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict," said spokesman Fred Stern. "Natural gas development has long been prevalent in Wise County with hundreds of wells drilled and currently operated by dozens of companies. Aruba is just one of those operators. Aruba is an experienced oil and gas operator that is in compliance within the air quality limits set by the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
"We contended the plaintiffs were neither harmed by the presence of our drilling operations nor was the value of their property diminished because of our natural gas development. We presented thorough and expert testimony from recognized toxicologists and medical professionals, as well as local real estate professionals, to help the jury make an informed decision. Unfortunately, they returned a verdict that we believe is counter to the evidence presented."
Robert Parr, a mason and cattleman, and his family live on about 40 acres in Decatur, TX, about 45 miles northwest of Fort Worth, in Wise County. The lawsuit says "significant natural gas drilling, completions and production activity began taking place in Wise County" from 2008 and thereafter near the Parr property.
The family experienced chronic migraines, rashes, dizziness, nausea and chronic nosebleeds, including an incident when their daughter awoke in the middle of the night covered in blood, according to plaintiffs attorneys. Livestock and pets on the family's ranch were also affected with nosebleeds and other illnesses. A dwarf calf was born of a cow that had delivered healthy calves before the fracking operations started.
Along with Aruba, the Parrs in 2011 sued a number of energy companies active near their land. Halliburton Co. won a summary judgment dismissal of claims in 2013. Settlements were struck between the Parrs and other defendants, including one with a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co.
The lead attorney representing the Parrs, Brad Gilde of Gilde Law Firm, did not respond to a request for comment.
Decatur is 28 miles west of Denton, where residents who have grown weary of fracking near their homes have gathered enough signatures on a petition to put a fracking ban before voters in November (see Shale Daily, April 10). Area residents are also suing Eagleridge Energy, claiming the company's activities have diminished their property values.