A Texas family has been awarded $2.9 million in a lawsuit over personal injury and property damage related to fracking.
In 2008, the Parr family started having serious health issues. They sued Aruba Petroleum, which operates natural gas wells near their home.
The Parrs argue that the company’s activities created toxic air pollutants and diesel exhaust. Aruba says it met state regulations, and the company plans to appeal.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Lisa Parr, who brought the lawsuit along with her husband and daughter, and lawyer Brad Gilde, who represented them.
- Lisa Parr, plaintiff in the lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, along with her husband and daughter.
- Brad Gilde, lawyer for the Parr family.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. A Texas family has been awarded $2.9 million in a lawsuit over personal injury and property damage related to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In 2008, the Parr family started having serious health problems and sued Aruba Petroleum, which operates natural gas wells near their home. The Parrs argue the company's activities created toxic air pollutants and diesel exhaust. Aruba says it met state regulations and may appeal.
Joining us now from Dallas is Lisa Parr. She was the plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with her husband and daughter. Also with us, attorney Brad Gilde. He's a lawyer for the family. Welcome to both of you.
BRAD GILDE: Thank you.
LISA PARR: Thank you.
HOBSON: And Lisa, take us back to where this all began and when you started to notice that you were having health issues because, you thought, of the fracking that was going on near you.
PARR: Well, I didn't - I was sick for well over a year before we figured out that it was the industry that was causing my medical problems. In late 2008, I started having a few symptoms - nausea, blinding headaches, dizziness - that developed into - I had a rash over my entire body. I had lymph nodes that stuck out like pecans on my neck. I started stumbling, stuttering, getting dizzy. My face drew up like I had Bell's palsy.
I had eight different doctors working on me at the time, and none of them could figure out what was going on.
HOBSON: And it wasn't just you, right? There were family members also experiencing problems as well.
PARR: That is correct, and since I was a stay-at-home mom, I got sick much worse, quicker. Probably mid-2009, my daughter and husband started having nosebleeds. She had a rash; she had stomach problems. She complained about funny shapes in her vision. My husband had a bleeder, which is kind of like an aneurism that burst in his brain. Thankfully he survived that.
There's just a multitude of central nervous system illnesses.
HOBSON: And you blame this on some drilling that had been going on very close to your ranch. How close was it?
PARR: The closest one is 791 feet.
HOBSON: And how did you figure out that that was the problem?
PARR: Well, in 2009, when I had all these multitude of problems in my family too, we didn't have drilling on our property. It's on our neighboring properties. And my neighbors, the Reggerios(ph), while they were at work, the Aruba Petroleum had come in and knocked down their fence with their horses in it, which was lovely. And when they put the fence back, they put it in the wrong spot.
They had called my husband to come over and to help them move the fence back where it should be. And one day when he was over there, the scientist they had hired to do their air study, take an air sample, was there and was telling them the health effects that could happen with what she had found. And they said when they turned around, my husband had tears coming down his eyes because he said that's what's wrong with my wife and my family.
So that's how we started putting the dots together.
HOBSON: And Brad Gilde, this is something that goes on all over Texas. There's drilling going on all over Texas. There's fracking going on all over this country now. Was it difficult to blame this on the company that was doing that drilling?
GILDE: It was. You know, this is kind of a very unique case, over 22 wells operated by Aruba Petroleum, Inc., that literally surrounded the home. We also had a unique factor where the topography of the Parr's property sat kind of in a valley, and because of that, the volatile organic compounds are heavier than air, and they would settle at night and settle in the valley, and that's where their home was.
HOBSON: And Aruba, we should say, has continued to deny that this was what was causing the Parr family health problems. They say they thank the jury for its service, but the facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict. So they're denying this. They've also said that they followed state regulations when it comes to air pollution.
GILDE: Well, that's what they claim. You know, there are a number of findings from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, as well as the attorney general for the state of Texas, that would differ with that. And in this case...
HOBSON: Well, they claim that the air quality limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are being abided by by them.
GILDE: Yes and no. There were a number of instances where the findings would contradict that, and we were limited in the type of evidence that we could present. But it's also the absence of regulation. So in this respect, they're saying we comply with the 25-ton-per-year limit, but much of their activity is not reportable. Much of their activity is going to produce volatile organic compounds, or release volatile organic compounds, that aren't put into that calculus.
And so for example, we found a workover activity wherein over a two-day process they released two tons of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. So that particular process was left out of the calculation, but if you consider that in a two-day time period versus their entire yearly allotment, it's certainly possible that they're exceeding the regulations.
HOBSON: Lisa, are you going to continue to live on that ranch? And is the drilling still going on there?
PARR: The production phase is going on now. And going back to where they say that they have met regulations, well, I could beg to differ on that. There was one particular night my entire house was shaking, and the well site, 6H, that's closest to our house, we lease that property for cattle and - for a few, and I went over there to make sure the cattle was not around that operation being done over there, and they were. So I drove on the pad side, on the four-wheeler, to move them, and when I did, my throat and my nose started burning.
So I called TCQ. When they got out there, the investigator got sick, and they took an air sample. That air sample had come back with 30 chemicals over the long and/or short-term limits. And I begged TCQ to turn that over to the attorney general. They indeed did that, and the attorney general fined this company.
So with the multitude of violations and fines that this company has had through the Texas agencies, they have cleaned their act up, and they've also shut off the well closest to our house to where we are able to live at our home. We also know how to do our treatments.
HOBSON: Well, yeah, how's your health at this point?
PARR: It's much better since the Texas agencies got involved and made them clean up their act. They've put air stations there that clean the air up in our area, on each one of the sites, and the fact that they have shut in the well closest to my house, we are able to stay there now.
HOBSON: Lisa, some people may hear what you're saying and wonder whether you are against the idea of fracking because there are a lot of people in this country who think it does cause a lot more harm than good for the environment.
PARR: We are not against fracking. We're not against the drilling, the fracking, the production. We're just pro-responsible. If you have a leak, report it. My neighbors sent letters to this company, I called this company, I called their PR firm, I talked to every worker I could. They would not call me back. They refused to talk to me. We were forced into this lawsuit due to that fact.
If you're going to be in that close proximity to someone's home, that's your new neighbor. Be respectful of your neighbors and do the right thing. Be responsible.
HOBSON: Lisa Parr, she, her husband and daughter were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that they won against Aruba Petroleum, which had been doing some fracking very close to their ranch in Texas. We've also been speaking with Brad Gilde, attorney for the family. Thanks to both of you.
PARR: Thank you.
GILDE: Thank you so much.
HOBSON: And we welcome your thoughts at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.