On April 22, when the six-person jury’s verdict awarding $2.95 million in a strange nuisance lawsuit in Dallas was announced, the national media nearly frothed at the mouth, salivating over what they perceived as a “breakthrough” case in the war against what is known in the oil and gas business as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."
The headline from CNN screamed, “Texas family plagued with ailments gets $3M in 1st-of-its-kind fracking judgment." The Los Angeles Times wrote that the verdict “is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation,” and quoted environmentalist Gary Wocker, who exclaimed: “It’s a game-changing verdict that may have repercussions throughout the United States,” implying that the first olive out of the bottle is always the hardest and that the next ones will now come out more easily.
Their celebrations, however, are premature, as several experts say the verdict may well be overturned on appeal.
The story that culminated in this lawsuit goes back 13 years. Bob Parr, now a 53-year-old stonemason and cattle rancher, bought a 40-acre spread near Decatur, Texas (about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth) in 2001. Lisa and her daughter, Emma, moved in with him in 2007, and the two were married a year later. Surrounding their ranch were more than 20 oil and natural gas wells, some as close as 1,000 feet.
Lisa, a stay-at-home mom, first began to feel poorly in November 2008, but thought it was just the flu. Her symptoms kept getting worse, however: blinding headaches and nausea coupled with skin rashes. Emma, then nine, started having nosebleeds, while her stepfather developed memory problems.
They noticed that some of their calves were born with birth defects, and some of their pets began to die. In January 2010, the Parrs hired an environmental air quality company to test the air in their home, which found traces of benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene. In August 2010, the Parrs moved out of their home and lived until March 2011 in a back room of Bob’s business office in Denton, about 30 miles away.
In September 2011, with the help of three Dallas law firms, the Parrs sued nine companies operating the wells around their ranch, asking for $66 million in damages.
Those are the facts.
The assumptions are that the symptoms the Parrs experienced all came from those nearby wells.
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