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Emma Parr and her father Bob began having nosebleeds after moving in to a home surrounded by gas wells. Photo: Earthworks / www.earthworksaction.org/ .
Emma Parr and her father Bob began having nosebleeds after moving in to a home surrounded by gas wells. Photo: Earthworks / www.earthworksaction.org/ .
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Texas court awards family $3 million for fracking health damage

The Ecologist

24th April 2014

In 2011 Bob and Lisa Parr filed a lawsuit in the Texas courts against Aruba Petroleum after they suffered health damage which they attributed to pollution from fracking wells. They have now been awarded $3m damages.

When evidence of fracking's impacts are shown to an impartial jury in a court of law, they find them to be real and significant.

The fracking industry in Texas, across the USA and beyond are now counting the potential cost of lawsuits for health damage after a Texas family was awarded $3m in damages after they, their pets and livestock suffered an array of symptoms they attribute to fracking pollution.

The suit, filed against Aruba Petroleum in 2011, concluded this week in Dallas when a jury found in favour of Bob and Lisa Parr, whose home and 40-acre ranch is surrounded by 21 fracking wells.

According to the The Parrs' lawyers, Matthews & Associates, the fracking operations "fouled the family's 40-acre ranch property, their home and quality of life, sickened them and their pets and livestock."

The Parr vs Aruba Petroleum case may now presage many similar legal actions as law firms are inspired by the scale of the payout to take on claims against fracking operators on a no-win-no-fee basis.

'You can't prove it'

In its defence, says Matthews, Aruba told jurors the Parrs could not prove that Aruba was responsible "because the gas wells it drilled, eight within a mile of the Parr land and 14 within two miles, are all over a landscape which features several dozens of other drilling rig operations."

However the argument left the jury unimpressed and it awarded the Parrs substantial damages including $275,000 for the Parr's property loss of market value, $2 million for past physical pain and suffering by Bob and Lisa Parr and their daughter, $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering, and $400,000 for past mental anguish.

"They're vindicated", said Mr. Matthews. "I'm really proud of the family that went through what they went through and said, 'I'm not going to take it anymore.'

"It takes guts to say, 'I'm going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.' It's not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through."

The family home is in Wise County, Texas is in the heart of 'frackland' surrounded by gas wells operated by numerous companies including Aruba Petroleum.

Aruba now plans to appeal the verdict.

A catalog of misery

After fracking operations began in 2008 Bob, Lisa and their daughter, Emma began to suffer a range of health problems, as reported in Earthworks's account of the family's deteriorating health:

"Shortly after moving to the area, Lisa's excellent health began to deteriorate. She began having breathing difficulties, nausea and headaches. She had violent rashes from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet that have left her body scarred with pockmarks. Six doctors could not find anything physically wrong. She even had a biopsy of the oozing welts on her scalp and the four ping pong size lumps on her neck.

"After visiting with her neighbor, Christine Ruggiero, Lisa compared her medical records with Christine's log of spills, releases and air testing from the gas wells on their property. Lisa's medical episodes coincided with the environmental events.

"When Lisa started having balance and other neurological problems her doctor recommended she see an environmental specialist whose tests detected chemicals in her blood and lungs that match the results of TCEQ's air sampling.

"Bob Parr, 50, only had 3 to 5 nosebleeds in his entire life. But in one year he had about 3 per week. Bob and seven-year-old Emma Parr sometimes had simultaneous nosebleeds. Bob also experienced loss of balance and neurological problems.

"Emma Parr was recently diagnosed with asthma. She has also suffered rashes and nausea. After receiving Lisa's test results, her doctor advised them to leave their home within 48 hours. The Parr family temporarily moved into Bob's office space where there is no drilling nearby. Their health greatly improved."

Many more claims may follow

The case is believed to be the first of its kind in the US as the case was decided in public by the court, rather than settled out of court with strict 'gag-orders' forbidding plaintiffs from disclosing details of the settlement.

One such case in the Marcellus Shale area of SW Pennsylvania resulted in a $750,000 award in 2013. The The Observer-Reporter reported that Range Resources paid compensation to Stephanie and Christopher Hallowich the basis that the plaintiffs and even their children were sworn to secrecy.

Bruce Baizel, Earthworks Energy Program Director Bruce Baizel said the Parr case is important for two reasons: "When evidence of fracking's impacts are shown to an impartial jury in a court of law, they find them to be real and significant.

"And it shows why the fracking industry is reluctant to allow lawsuits of this type to go to trial. Instead fracking companies try to force out of court settlements that gag the harmed family as a condition for financial compensation. They almost always succeed, hiding from the public the proof of fracking's dangers.

"Consequently, industry and government continue claiming fracking is harmless. We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking's dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe." -


 

 

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