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Fracking made Texas ranchers Bob and Lisa Parr, their daughter and their pets sick, a jury in Dallas has found, ordering Aruba Petroleum to pay the Parrs $3 million.
“Six regular people who knew nothing about fracking were presented with the facts and awarded the victims $3 million,” Sharon Wilson of the anti-fracking group Earthworks wrote in a blog post.
The jury blamed the sickness on gases released by a natural gas fracking operation that Aruba owns next door to the Parrs’ ranch. The family had actually sued several drilling companies but Aruba was the only one that went to jury. The other cases were settled out of court or dismissed.
“We can’t drink our well water,” Bob Parr told FOX 4 “We can’t breathe the air without getting sick.”
The First Anti-Fracking Verdict in the US
“This verdict is a game-changer,” the Parrs’ attorney, David Matthews, said in a press release. “It should make fracking operators stand up and take notice.”
The Parrs’ case could set an important precedent because it could be the first anti-fracking verdict in the US, Tom McGarity, an environmental law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told National Public Radio (NPR).
“It is rare for any case to go to the jury in a civil case, just simply because most settle,” McGarity said.
The Parrs’ case could lead to many more lawsuits, said Hannah Wiseman, a law professor at Florida State University. Under the “nuisance” category the lawsuit was filed under, the company’s actions did not have to be illegal – they only had to be proven to cause harm.
“They allow this very broad argument that property use has been unreasonably interfered with, and I think they in part fill in what some people see as gaps in the regulatory regime,” Wiseman said of nuisance claims.
Fracking Made Them Sick
The Parrs and their daughter developed a wide variety of ailments including asthma, skin problems and dizziness at their 40-acre ranch in Wise County, Texas. The ranch was in the middle of a major gas field and surrounded by fracking operations.
“I had a rash throughout my body,” Lisa Parr told NPR. “My lymph nodes stuck out in my neck like the size of pecans. There was four of them on each side.”
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Lisa realized that there was a connection to fracking when she saw a record of spills and leaks at nearby fracking operations that her neighbor was keeping. She said she got sick whenever one of the operations released chemicals into the air.
“When they showed me those dates, I flipped back, and those were the dates I was either in the emergency room or at a doctor’s office,” Lisa Parr said.
The Parrs’ case isn’t over, even though both a jury and the judge signed off on the verdict. News articles indicate that Aruba could be planning to appeal the case to higher courts.
“It was arbitrary,” Ben Barron, one of Aruba’s attorneys, told The Dallas Morning News. “How do you determine which well caused what, if any, damages?”
Another company involved in the case, Ecana Oil & Gas of Calgary, Alberta, settled out of court with the Parrs for an undisclosed amount. There have been other fracking settlements in other states such as Pennsylvania, as Off The Grid News previously reported, but no jury verdicts.