Hydrofracking Lawsuit Results in $2.9M Jury Award for Private Nuisance

A Texas jury has awarded $2.9 million in damages against a hydraulic fracturing company, in a lawsuit filed by a family that alleged gas extraction wells caused pollution, decreased value of their land and a variety of health problems.

Hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly known as hydrofracking or just fracking, is the controversial process for getting at pockets of natural gas trapped underground.

In recent years, oil and gas companies have been using the process to 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.

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The verdict was handed down on Tuesday by a Dallas County court jury, in an environmental tort lawsuit was filed by Bob and Lisa Parr, as well as their daughter, Emma Duval, against Aruba Petroleum Inc.

According allegations raised in the hydrofracking lawsuit, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents 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.

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.

The jury awarded the $2.925 million verdict on the grounds that the company had been a private nuisance for the Parr family. The jury found that Aruba intentionally took steps to interfere with the Parr family’s use of its 40-acre property, but did not find that the company acted with malice and refused to grant punitive damages. The monetary award represented compensatory damages for pain, suffering, and loss of land value.

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