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Water Contamination Alleged in Two Barnett Shale Lawsuits

Two lawsuits were filed in Dallas Wednesday alleging that units of Devon Energy Corp., Encana Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp. contaminated water wells in the Barnett Shale with hydraulic fracturing and the storage of drilling waste.

The Turley Law Firm of Dallas filed the complaints in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The firm's website solicits business from landowners who feel they have been harmed by the gas industry and hydraulic fracturing. "Frequently, the landowners are not even aware that massive amounts of chemical fluids are being forced into the ground beneath them during the hydrofracking operation," the website says.

One of the lawsuits was filed on behalf of Doug and Diana Harris against Devon Energy Production Co. LP, and the other was filed on behalf of Grace Mitchell against Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., Chesapeake Operating Inc. and Chesapeake Exploration LLC. The complaints are similar; both cite nuisance, trespass and negligence as causes of action. Both seek to recover costs of property remediation as well as nominal damages for each trespass and exemplary damages.

The lawsuits also seek "lifetime medical monitoring and testing [of plaintiffs] so that serious diseases that may arise as a result of this toxic exposure will be discovered and treated as early as possible."

According to the complaints, the Harris' land is in Denton County and Mitchell's land is in Johnson County, both in the Barnett's Newark East Field.

The Mitchell complaint says that in May the plaintiff's "well water started to feel slick to the touch and give off an oily, gasoline-like odor. Testing results performed on the well ground water confirmed it was contaminated with various chemicals including C-12-C28 hydrocarbons, similar to diesel fuel."

The Harris complaint says that in April 2008 the plaintiffs' water "became polluted with gray sediment." Devon recommended that a new water well be drilled, which the plaintiffs did. "But the same gray contaminated substance continues to be found in the second well's water," the complaint says.

Chesapeake's Julie Wilson, vice president for urban development, told Shale Daily the company had yet to see the complaint but was familiar with a press release sent out by the Turley firm and related press coverage.

"We have no record of [Mitchell] ever attempting to contact us with concerns about her water quality so we have no information to assess her claims at this time," Wilson said. "With more than 2,000 wells drilled in the Barnett Shale formation, Chesapeake has established an outstanding record of encasing wells and protecting the region's groundwater.

"The press release that accompanied this lawsuit suggests there is widespread water contamination in the Barnett Shale. That is totally false. It is irresponsible for lawyers to opportunistically prey on people's fears and misconceptions to encourage baseless lawsuits."

A Devon spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for Encana said the company had not yet seen the complaint.

Plaintiffs' attorney T Nguyen of the Turley firm declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Earlier this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order against Range Resources Corp. that claims at least two drinking water wells in Parker County, TX, "have been significantly impacted by...methane contamination" from its oil and gas production facilities in the region (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9). The complaint has been set for a hearing Jan. 10 at the Railroad Commission of Texas, which has objected to EPA stepping into its ongoing investigation of the matter.

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