The U.S. has had its first anti-fracking verdict! Lawsuits against hydraulic fracturing companies have been appearing more and more recently, but , in the past, companies could usually repel these legal suits by citing the fact that they are operating within the air quality regulations of a given state. Unfortunately, these regulations are in woeful need of update – but that’s another story.
Instead, a Texas family, the Parrs, took a different approach. They filed a nuisance complaint against several fracking companies near their ranch. The family had begun experiencing a multitude of medical problems, seemingly out of the blue, such as rashes, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and dizziness. When they consulted with a neighbor who had been keeping diligent track of the timing of particular fracking operations, they found that the medical symptoms (and subsequent emergency room trips) correlated quite well with when spills or leaks had occurred at the fracking sites.
This has appeared to be enough evidence for the jury. Although most of the companies decided to settle out of court, one – Aruba Petroleum – thought it had a good chance of winning and thus let the case go to jury. Instead, the jury sided with the Parrs and and awarded them 3 million dollars.
The particular interest in this story lies in the fact that the Parrs used a nuisance complaint to sue Aruba. Apparently, this type of legal complaint allows for a broader argument that the fracking operations are interfering with neighborhood property and does not require the breaking of specific governmental air quality regulations. This may set a key precedent for future fracking lawsuits so that companies can be held accountable for the environmental and medical mayhem they seem to be causing (examples abound: my previous blog post, the Gasland II documentary, and an Environment America report , along with many more similar stories!) Meanwhile, the policy battles will continue to see if Congress will update air quality regulations to include new data regarding the impact of fracking.
P.S. The actual petition filed by the Parrs can be found here if you’re interested in the legal details.