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Texas family plagued with ailments gets $3M in 1st-of-its-kind fracking judgment

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Story highlights

Parr family suffered from nosebleeds, rashes, vision problems, "vomiting white foam"

A Dallas jury this week ordered Aruba Petroleum to pay the Parrs $3 million in damages

Aruba says it didn't cause health problems or property damage; company may appeal

Asked about drawn-out appeals process, Lisa Parr quotes Tom Petty: "I won't back down"

Dallas CNN —  

When the Parr family started having serious health problems late in 2008, they had no idea it was associated with what they call “a multitude” of drilling operations that popped up near their 40-acre ranch in Decatur, 60 miles northwest of Dallas.

At first, Lisa Parr dismissed her migraine headaches, nausea and dizziness as the flu, but when her symptoms persistently got worse, she knew something more serious was involved.

“By 2009, I was having a multitude of problems,” Lisa Parr told CNN. “My central nervous system was messed up. I couldn’t hear, and my vision was messed up. My entire body would shake inside. I was vomiting white foam in the mornings.”

In 2009, Lisa’s husband, Robert, and their 11-year-old daughter, Emma, also became ill, suffering a laundry-list of symptoms.

“They had nosebleeds, vision problems, nausea, rashes, blood pressure issues. Being that the wells were not on our property, we had no idea that what they were doing on the property around us was affecting us,” she said.

Lisa Parr's daughter, Emma, suffered from nosebleeds.
Courtesy Parr family
Lisa Parr's daughter, Emma, suffered from nosebleeds.

’Private nuisance’

After a two-week trial that ended Tuesday – Earth Day, coincidentally – a Dallas jury awarded the Parr family $2.9 million for personal injury and property damages in the family’s lawsuit against Plano-based Aruba Petroleum Inc.

According to the lawsuit, Aruba Petroleum had 22 natural gas wells within a 2-mile radius of the Parrs’ property, with three wells in close proximity to their Texas home. The closest was 791 feet away.

As a result of poor management and lack of emission controls, Aruba Petroleum created a “private nuisance” to the Parr family by producing harmful air pollution and exposing them to harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds, toxic air pollutants and diesel exhaust, the lawsuit said.

Op-ed: Make sure fracking is done right

Aruba Petroleum argued to the jury that it consistently met state regulatory standards for air emissions and that there was no evidence its fracking of the wells harmed the Parr family in any way.

In a statement released after the verdict, Aruba said “natural gas development has long been prevalent in Wise County,” and dozens of companies operate hundreds of wells there. The company further said it complied with state air-quality limits and that its experts made strong cases countering the Parrs’ claims in court.

“We contended the plaintiffs were neither harmed by the presence of our drilling operations nor was the value of their property diminished because of our natural gas development. We presented thorough and expert testimony from recognized toxicologists and medical professionals, as well as local real estate professionals, to help the jury make an informed decision,” Aruba’s statement said.

“Unfortunately, they returned a verdict that we believe is counter to the evidence presented.”

An important precedent?

Fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which drillers pump large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into a shale or rock formation. The wells can be deeper than 8,000 feet, and the process fractures the shale around the well, allowing the natural gas in the shale to flow freely.

Interactive: How fracking works

Is energy independence a myth?

Lisa Parr said that she knew by July 2010 that the “loud operation” next door to their ranch was toxic.

“One night, our whole house was vibrating and shaking. We lease that property for our cattle and so I went over there to make sure our cattle wasn’t around there, and when I went over there my nose and throat started burning.”

Parr called the state Commission on Environmental Quality.

“My doctor, an internal specialist, found 20 chemicals in my body and he said, ‘Lisa you must move immediately. You will spend more time and money on hospitals, chemotherapy, and a mortician … and you need to get an environmental health doctor immediately,’ ” she said.

The Parrs filed suit in March 2011, asking for $66 million in damages against nine companies that were originally thought to be involved in the drilling operations.

Lisa husband's, Bob, suffered from similar symptoms.
Courtesy Parr family
Lisa husband's, Bob, suffered from similar symptoms.

Eventually, some of the energy companies were dismissed from the case, and some reached settlements before the trial. Their identities cannot be disclosed, according to the Parrs’ Houston-based attorney, Brad Gilde.