A Texas family that sued a drilling company was awarded close to three million dollars this week by a Dallas County jury. The decision is being called a landmark one by people opposed to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” and touted as a first by the plaintiffs’ legal team.
“The fracking industry has really just taken off in the last three or four years. So really this is a new problem to the extent that we’re seeing cases now that are getting a verdict,” David Mathews, a lawyer representing the Parr family, tells StateImpact Texas.
Fracking is the drilling technique that pumps water and chemicals into the ground to release oil and gas. In this case the Parrs argued that fracking near their North Texas ranch by Aruba Petroleum hurt their health, reduced their property value, and even forced them to flee their property.
The Parrs had initially filed suit against other companies as well, but those were either dismissed or settled out of court. Companies and plaintiffs often settle, another reason why jury awards are rare.
Mathews is calling the decision “a bit of a wake-up call to industry.”
“If you are going to be in the fracking industry, you have to do it safely, and you have to do it with care to your neighbors,” he says. “I think this may well bring out other people that will stand up for themselves.”
In an emailed statement, Aruba Petroleum denied that it harmed the family.
“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,” the statement reads in part.
The verdict comes as public scrutiny increases on the impact of fracking and associated activities on air quality. An investigation into air quality in the Eagle Ford Shale drilling fields in South Texas earlier this year found that oil and gas activity there was responsible for a deterioration of air quality. Another study out of the University of Texas at Austin found that better monitoring of air quality was needed in light of the drilling boom in North Texas.
A judge still needs to sign off on the three million dollar award to the Parrs. Aruba Petroleum says it will wait for that to happen before deciding whether to appeal.