‘Don’t Frack Me’ Homeowners Tell Oil Companies
“Don’t mess with Texas” has been a popular motto in the southwestern state for decades. Now a husband-and-wife team is suing some of the biggest companies in the state in an effort to enforce a new motto: “Don’t frack with Texas.”
Lisa and Bob Parr, along with Lisa’s school-age daughter, Emma, are seeking up to $8 million in damages from ConocoPhillips, Halliburton and other energy-industry firms in a suit they’ve filed in Dallas County court. The Parrs say that some 63 natural-gas wells that surround their 40-acre ranch have introduced dangerous chemicals into the air, water and soil, thanks in part to the increasingly controversial practice known as “fracking.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water and chemicals into the earth to unleash trapped deposits of natural gas. Proponents say that fracking helps Americans lessen their dependence on foreign fuels, and provides access to natural gas that would be otherwise hard to obtain. But the Parrs are just the latest to question whether the risks may outweigh the rewards. In some areas of the country, fracking opponents believe the practice has triggered small earthquakes. Other opponents say that fracking causes environmental contamination, with some claiming that they’ve found dangerous chemicals in their well-drawn drinking water. Read more about fracking risks. Vermont recently banned fracking, though a report from the University of Texas says the risks are overstated.
Regardless of the national debate, the Parrs say that natural-gas development near their Wise County, Texas, ranch are real. In addition to fracking, gas development has brought more cars and trucks to the area, companies — both intentionally and accidentally — have released chemicals into the air, and open-air waste treatment pits have proliferated.
Since 2008, the Parrs have experienced migraines, rashes, chronic nosebleeds, open sores and a range of other health problems that an environmental health expert says are all tied to the nearby gas development, according to attorney Brad Gilde. The Parrs also claim that their animal livestock and property have been harmed as a result of activity by a number of companies. The suit names as plaintiffs Aruba Petroleum Inc., Ash Grove Resources LLC, ConocoPhillips subsidiary Burnington Resources Oil & Gas, Encana Oil & Gas Inc., Halliburtun Co., Tejax Production Services Inc., Tejas Western Corp.
“With no choice whatsoever, my clients were forced to file a lawsuit,” said Gilde, who is representing the Parrs.
“The Parrs have been inundated by a constant and perpetual assault of hydrocarbon gases” that are also affecting area schools, nursing homes and other community resources, Gilde said.
The problem may have hit this family especially hard because its ranch is in a low-lying area, but Gilde said that many families and businesses are affected in the area of the Barnett Shale, a region of north-central Texas believed to have abundant natural gas.
So far, the accused companies have largely declined to comment on the case or have said that they were wrongly named in the suit, and industry groups continue to dispute claims that natural-gas development causes serious health problems.
In June, the U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a hearing on air pollution and natural gas development, an issue the Environmental Protection Agency is also beginning to explore. But given the often-slow pace of federal action, lawsuits such as those the Parrs have filed may be the leading tool for determining who’s responsible for health problems that may be linked to fracking.
If you’re concerned about fracking near your own property, or about other risks associated with natural gas wells, an environmental attorney can help you review your options. Visit the Environmental Law area on Lawyers.com to learn more and to locate an attorney in your area.