Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First Fracking Verdict in U.S. History

Plaintiff Awarded $2.9 Million:  Post-Trail Motions and Appeal Certain
Charles Sartran of the Energy & the Law blog discusses what is being characterized as the "first fracking verdict in U.S. History." 
[A] Texas jury awarded $2.9 million to landowners in a case involving alleged hydrocarbon exposure due to hydraulic fracturing operations. Here is the jury verdict. The Parrs sued Aruba Petroleum, alleging that drilling and frac[k]ing at Aruba’s 22 wells located within two miles of the Parr’s 40-acre property in Wise County was making them sick. They alleged a wide array of health issues, including nose bleeds, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and open sores, all of which were allegedly caused by hazardous gases and airborne chemicals emanating from Aruba’s well sites.
The case proceeded to the jury only on the nuisance claim. The award, for intentionally creating a private nuisance, comprised $275,000 for loss in property value, $2 million for past pain and suffering, $250,000 for future pain and suffering, and $400,000 for past mental anguish. The jury did not find evidence of the malice necessary to justify an award of punitive damages.

In my Environmental Dispute Resolution course, we spend a 2-hour class period discussing fracking, as well as the power landowners gain against developers when they collaborate in the negotiation for shale gas recovery.  

The fracking process is explained in this industry video.

Several videos on YouTube describe the risks of the fracking process to adjacent landowners and aquifers.  I found them compelling, but I admit that I have not spent enough time in the industry to developed an informed opinion.  Links to the videos are herehere, here, here, here, and here.  You can also find industry dismissal of the risks here.

My concern is that production outpaces what we know about the long-term risks to human health.  

May 1, 2014 Update:  New York Times op-ed piece discussing pros and cons of shale gas development here.  Authors Michael Bloomberg and Fed Krupp argue:
Strong rules and enforcement are critical. And, as one of us, Fred Krupp, describes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, states are beginning to take action. Texas has imposed tough standards for well integrity, a key to groundwater protection. Wyoming has set strong requirements for water testing before drilling begins. Ohio is emerging as a leader in reducing air pollution from leaky oil and gas equipment. And in February, Colorado became the first state to directly regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations — a huge step forward.

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