Source: http://www.lexology.com, May 1, 2014
By: Wayne J. D’Angelo, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
An April 22nd verdict by a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million to a family that alleged natural gas wells drilled on adjacent property by Aruba Petroleum Inc. caused significant health and economic difficulties. The jury’s five to one verdict found that although Aruba’s actions were not abnormal for the area, the company did take intentional steps to cause substantial interference with the Parr family’s use of its land that constituted an intentional private nuisance. The jury rejected the Parrs’ claim for exemplary damages after finding that the company did not act with malice, but it did award damages for physical and mental pain and anguish, as well as for the loss of market value of the family’s land.
Aruba operated 22 wells within a two-mile radius of the family’s forty-acre homestead near Fort Worth, which sits on the Barnett Shale formation. The Parr family sued Aruba and other oil and gas companies in 2011 for $9 million in damages, alleging that the wells exposed them to hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial wastes that made them too sick to work, and forced them to live in Bob Parr’s office at times, instead of in their home. The family ascribed their symptoms to a number of gases commonly attributed to the hydraulic fracturing process, specifically benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. They further alleged that their home had been assailed by foul odors and loud noise since drilling began.
Aruba maintained that it complied with all air quality and drilling safety guidelines enforced by the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The company further argued that it was improper to attribute the Parrs’ alleged harms to Aruba exclusively because the Parr property is situated in an area with a large number of different drilling operations.
Aruba’s attorney, Ben Barron of Ben K. Barron PC, said that the company will file post-verdict motions challenging the ruling and will “certainly appeal” if judgment is entered on the verdict. Another company sued by the Parr family, Halliburton Co., succeeded in dismissing the action on a motion for summary judgment in spring 2013. The Parrs settled with other defendants, including a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co., with which the family reached an agreement that was finalized by the court on April 16th.
With assistance from Andrew McNamee