A Wise County family driven from their home after they said fracking operations make them sick won’t challenge an appeals court ruling that overturned a $2.9 million judgment against the drilling company.
Robert and Lisa Parr said they won’t appeal the decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Dallas last week concluding that the Parrs didn’t present sufficient evidence that Aruba Petroleum of Plano, which was drilling near their land, intentionally interfered with the use of their 40-acre ranch.
“I’m still upset but I’m not surprised, given the power of the industry in Texas,” said Lisa Parr, who said they were informed by their attorneys soon after the appeals court ruling that they were dropping them as clients. The attorneys did not return phone calls from the Star-Telegram.
I’m still upset but I’m not surprised, given the power of the industry in Texas, Lisa Parr
“I’m done. I don’t want to go through it again, which is sad,” said Parr, whose family appeared in the anti-fracking documentary Gasland Part II.
Attorneys representing Aruba praised the court’s ruling.
“I think it should give some comfort to operators like Aruba who are following the rules and operating in compliance within the industry’s health, safety and environmental standards,” said Anne Johnson, the lead appellate attorney from Haynes and Boone, which represented Aruba.
In one of the only lawsuits challenging the hydraulic fracturing process, or “fracking,” to make it to trial, the Parrs sued Aruba in 2011 alleging that its operations forced them to leave their home near Decatur for seven or eight months. The Parrs presented medical evidence that the drilling activity caused nose bleeds, irregular heartbeat and muscle spams, among other things.
I think it should give some comfort to operators like Aruba who are following the rules and operating in compliance within the industry’s health, safety and environmental standards,” Anne Johnson, the lead attorney representing Aruba.
The Parrs settled out of court with other natural gas extraction and service companies for causing “environmental contamination and polluting events.” Aruba was cited for a number of issues with its wells and in 2011 paid a $35,000 fine for emissions violations from three of its Wise County wells.
In 2014, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba did indeed create a nuisance that substantially interfered with the family’s use of the land and awarded them $2.4 million for mental anguish, $275,000 for lost property value and $250,000 for pain and suffering. The appeals court decision wipes out that judgment.
In its ruling on Feb. 1, the 5th Circuit ruled that despite the Parrs’ testimony that it had complained anonymously to Aruba and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, it didn’t present specific evidence that the company intended or desired to create a problem. The court also noted that even the jury did not find Aruba’s actions to be “abnormal and out of place” such as to constitute a private nuisance.
“None of the evidence cited by the Parrs of the noise, light, odors and other claimed effects of Aruba’s operations established that Aruba actually intended or desired to create an interference on the Parrs’ land … or that they actually knew or believed an interference would result,” the court ruled.
The closest well to the Parrs’ property line was more than two football fields away and even farther from their home, Johnson said. “We’ve thought from the very beginning that this verdict was wrong and we’re very pleased it’s been reversed,” she said.
There was ample evidence that the family was having problems and it is all documented, Lisa Parr said. Since the case when to trial, Aruba has shut down the well site, so there isn’t any additional contamination. But she said her family will “never be the same.”
The family spent $350,000 for medical treatments and testing of their property, and also invested some of the money it received in its other settlements to pursue the Aruba case, Parr said. Now, that’s all over.
“It is going to make it harder [to challenge the industry],” Parr said of the court’s ruling. There was ample evidence her family was having problems, but this ruling makes it hard to see what it will take to prove it.
“In Texas, it is impossible to fight the industry,” she said.