TRNN Interviews Texas Family Awarded $3 Million in America’s First Fracking Trial
Plaintiff Lisa Parr describes how her family suffered mentally and physically after her home became surrounded with fracking wells
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Fracking for natural gas has come under a lot of scrutiny lately. The U.S. is in the middle of a fracking boom, with natural gas being touted by the Obama administration as the ideal bridge energy source in order to transition to greener energy. But study after study has linked fracking to air and groundwater pollution, and part of the process has been linked to earthquakes.
Now a court case in Texas is adding to this ongoing saga. Bob and Lisa Parr were awarded $3 million against Aruba Petroleum. The jury found the energy company liable for pain and suffering, both mental and physical, as well as the loss of property value.
Joining us now is the plaintiff, Lisa Parr, from Decatur, Texas.
Thank you for joining us.
LISA PARR, PLAINTIFF VS. ARUBA PETROLEUM, INC.: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: Also, to give us the legal significance of this case is their attorney, Brad Gilde.
Thank you for joining us.
GILDE: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So I want to get a sense of the living conditions that you were dealing with, Lisa. Please paint for our viewers a picture of where your home was located in relation to these franking wells.
PARR: Well, we were surrounded by numerous wells, well over 60. But in close proximity there was one company that was just closer [crosstalk] being 791 feet.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And what kind of effect did fracking have on your health?
PARR: Well, at first it was flu-like symptoms. It was stomachaches, blinding headaches, dizziness. That led into a rash over my entire body. I had–my lymph nodes in my neck were sticking out. They were the size of pecans. There were four of them on each side. I started stumbling, stuttering, falling down, losing my balance. I started–my face [drew up] like I had Bell’s palsy. During this time I was going to eight different specialists who were trying to figure out what was wrong with me.
The biggest thing is, through this time we didn’t have any wells directly on our property, so we had no idea the link it had on our health effects.
DESVARIEUX: And you also have a daughter, an 11-year-old daughter. Is that right, Lisa? What kind of effect did it have on her health?
PARR: She started–she was complaining of stomachaches, and she said she saw funny shapes in her peripheral vision. She started having nosebleeds. She started having rashes.
DESVARIEUX: I want to bring Brad into this conversation, because, Brad, from my understanding, this is really the first fracking case, personal injury component, at least, that has won. Do you feel like we’re likely to see more of these? And can you also tell us how you argued this case and proved that the petroleum company was responsible?
GILDE: Sure. In response to your first question, I do anticipate seeing more of these type of cases. This is an industry that has by and large gone unchecked. The national gas boom that hit the United States–and Texas, for that matter–started in about 2008. And many of the technologies that–created to make unconventional shale gas developments, although individually are kind of old, being used together it’s quite new. And the fact that this activity is now taking place in very close proximity to where people live, we are just now starting to see the ramifications of that. And the Parrs are unfortunately an example of that.
In our case, we tried the case that Aruba Petroleum, Inc., was a reckless natural gas company, and the jury agreed. And in closing arguments, I stated that the Parrs were kind of like the canary in the coal mine: they were the testing ground for these types of emissions and health effects. And it’s a tragic circumstance that they had to go through that. But I think their case, and certainly their verdict, echoes what a lot of people have experienced throughout the country related to their health effects, living in close proximity to this type of activity.
DESVARIEUX: But, Brad, some people would be surprised to know that fracking is not covered under the EPA’s Clean Air Act or Safe Drinking Water Act. Were you surprised by this?
GILDE: Well, yes and no. I’m surprised that there is so little regulation on this industry. In fact, in Texas, because of the number of natural gas operators and the fact that all of this activity is quite new, it’s just too large for the administration to handle. And so the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, they rely in large part on self-reporting and self-policing. And, of course, when you have that and you have an industry that’s interested in producing gas but also doing so at a profit, there are going to be mishaps. And in this case we had a number of those mishaps with Aruba Petroleum, Inc. And, unfortunately, they affected the Parrs, and quite significantly.
DESVARIEUX: And, really, you mentioned this, Brad: Texas is sort of the heartland for the energy industry. And, Lisa, I want to ask you, there are going to be some people who are going to be out there saying that, you know, at the end of the day, fracking provides jobs and this is a necessary evil if we want to attain energy independence as we provide jobs to stimulate the economy. What’s your response to that?
PARR: We’re not against fracking and drilling. We’re not the antis. We are pro-responsible. If you’re going to do this in close proximity to homes, please be responsible. When you keep it in the pipes, when you have a leak, report it. You know, be aware of your neighbors. Pick up the phone, call them.
DESVARIEUX: Brad, what about you? What’s your response to that?
GILDE: I think that’s exactly right. I couldn’t say it better than Lisa. You know, this is an industry–and specifically with respect to Aruba Petroleum, Inc., they buried their head in the sand. They would not pick up the phone. The Parrs made a number of complaints, and Aruba gave them no attention. And so I think because of this type of practice, the unconventional shale gas development taking place in close proximity to where people live, you have to know your neighbor and you have to respect your neighbor and you have to pick up the phone. And in this case Aruba Petroleum, Inc., did not none of that.
DESVARIEUX: And it’s likely they’re going to be appealing this decision. What’s going to be your next move, then, Brad?
GILDE: Well, we’re going to challenge the appeal. You know, I think they have a right to appeal, but there are no points of error that I can see in this case. Aruba Petroleum, Inc., in the trial basically got every ruling that it wanted. It got the jury that it wanted. And, you know, the fact that the jury came back and found intentional nuisance is a reflection that the jury was upset with Aruba Petroleum Inc.’s actions. And I think the verdict is sound and based on an application of the facts to the charge. And we think it’s going to stand up.
DESVARIEUX: Lisa, I’ll let you have the final word. What advice would you give those who know that they live in areas where there is a lot of fracking going on?
PARR: The biggest problem is the doctors don’t recognize what’s going on. And my doctors told me to start writing things down. If they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me–my husband was sick as well, my daughter was sick–they knew it was something environmental. And so I started keeping a journal. And I wrote how we were feeling, what we’re seeing going on in the area. And that was, I think, a wonderful document in this case for the doctors as well as our lawsuit.
So be aware of what’s going on around you. If you see something going on and smell these sweet benzene type smells, report it and get some attention drawn to it.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Lisa Parr, as well as Brad Gilde, thank you both for joining us.
GILDE: Thank you so much.
PARR: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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