The judge presiding over a toxic emissions case involving fracking in Texas has accepted a jury verdict which awarded $2.9 million to the Parr family of Weiss County. The Parrs sued Aruba Petroleum for emissions which made them sick.
Judge Mark Greenberg issued a one-page ruling on June 19 that denied Aruba’s motion to reject the jury’s verdict which came in Greenberg’s court in April 2014. Aruba’s arguments which were rejected by Greenberg included the company’s claim that the Parr family failed to prove Aruba emissions made them sick.
*Update: The verdict is on appeal; so no recovery has been made despite the verdict.
The Parrs petition filed in March 2011 claimed their ranch was “under constant, perpetual, and inescapable assault of Defendants’ releases, spills, emissions, and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial/hazardous wastes.”
A two-week trial in April in Dallas County concluded with the jury finding Aruba “intentionally created a private nuisance” which affected the Parr family’s health. The case is the first jury trial success for plaintiffs in the U.S. who have charged injury from toxic air emissions from oil and gas production.
“We have had a jury hear the evidence and say that it was Aruba’s fault,” said Lisa Parr. “Now we have a judge who heard the evidence say that the jury was right.”
Aruba had earlier paid $108,000 to settle a case brought by the Texas Attorney General’s Office against the oil and gas company. That fine was levied after an inspector for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was sickened after he tried to collect air samples in response to a complaint from the Parrs. The inspector’s infrared camera captured “heavy plumes” issuing from Aruba operations toward the Parr house less than 300 feet away.
Legal experts expect Aruba will appeal the case now that Greenberg has ruled to accept the jury verdict.
University of Texas law school professor Thomas McGarity, a specialist in environmental and administrative law, told InsideClimate News last month that, “Losing this case was not good for the industry.” He also predicted that industry will “coalesce around this case” in order to “stop the dam from breaking wide open. (This) is where they will take a stand.”
University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Program Director Robert Percival said the judge’s decision was “another important step toward providing redress to those exposed to the unpleasant side effects of fracking operations.”
A Plano, Texas-based company, Aruba argued throughout the trial that there was no way to fix the blame on its operations. Despite expert and eye witness testimony throughout the trial, which fixed the blame on the company, its lawyers argued throughout that because Aruba owned only 22 of the 100 wells drilled within two miles of the Parrs’ property, the company could not be held accountable.
Much of this story comes from InsideClimate News. Methane gas, which is a prime catalyst in global warming, is released in enormous quantities via fracking.