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Appeals Court: Landowners Did Not Prove Drillers Negligent

A decision last year by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia has been upheld by an appeals court that landowners had not proven property damage or physical harm resulted from drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on their land in Jackson County, WV.

In a complaint filed in the district court in late 2010, Dennis and Tamera Hagy alleged that their well water had been contaminated after drilling operations by Equitable Production Co. (EQT), Warren Drilling Co., Halliburton Energy Services and BJ Services began on their property in late 2007. The Hagys claimed that BJ Services "negligently cemented and fracked the shale-gas wells on the Hagy property for EQT...[and] BJ Services's equipment failed and, as a result, the well-bore was not properly sealed with cement before pressurized fracking fluids were pumped into the ground."

In June 2010 District Court Judge Joseph R. Goodwin found that there was no proof of property damage or physical harm to the Hagys, saying they had "offered mere speculation in the place of evidence to connect any allegedly wrongful conduct with the harm they claim to have suffered." Claims against Warren, Halliburton and EQT were subsequently dismissed.

The District Court granted BJ Services' motion for summary judgment, finding that the Hagys "failed to produce any evidence, or even a clear theory, of a negligent act by BJ Services that had caused any harm to the Hagys." Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the lower court ruling, saying the couple "cannot connect any allegedly wrongful conduct by BJ Services with the harm they claim to have suffered."

The couple had complained of nausea, headaches and slow heartbeat. Tests performed by EQT on the Hagy water well showed increased levels of iron and manganese; West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection inspections at the well site found no violations, according to court documents.

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