Trial is underway in Texas in what is being considered the first lawsuit filed over the controversial gas mining process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Aruba Petroleum faces an environmental tort lawsuit from the Parr family of Wise County, Texas, who allege that nearly two dozen hydraulic fracturing wells near their property has caused them to be exposed to toxic chemicals, industrial waste and poisonous gases.
Trial began on Tuesday and is being closely watched, as the outcome may spark a number of other lawsuits over fracking wells throughout the United States, which have been the subject of much debate about their safety.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process for getting at pockets of natural gas trapped underground. Oil and gas companies blast a secret mix of chemicals, sand, water and other substances into the ground at high pressure, fracturing the bedrock and releasing the gas for extraction. The companies have refused to release the ingredients in the chemical cocktails injected into the ground using laws to protect them from revealing company secrets.
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, is a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.
The Parr lawsuit was originally filed in 2011, also including Halliburton, Encana Oil & Gas and Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co. as defendants. However, the Parrs settled for about $400,000 with Encana and Burlington. Halliburton convinced a judge to dismiss the claims against it in 2013, leaving only Aruba as a defendant, according to a report by Law360.com.
The family has been prevented from pursuing injury claims against the company, and the negligence lawsuit focuses primarily on the loss of property value due to the company’s activities and the alleged pollution and waste caused by the gas wells.
Aruba claims that the family cannot prove that their wells, among numerous others in the area, are the ones that made them sick or polluted the air, and say that the family is complaining of illnesses that were present before the wells existed.
However, some journalists and environmental activists and other observers who have been taken to the Parr property over the past several years reported being able to smell the fumes from the mining operations and claim to have suffered headaches, respiratory problems and other ailments shortly after arriving on the property. Those health issues dissipated after the observers left the vicinity of the property and the wells.