Recently, Lisa Parr, a north Texas resident, made news when she was awarded $2.9 million in a nuisance lawsuit involving fracking. The suit claimed that fracking and related drilling activities by Aruba Petroleum, a Plano-based oil company, had caused health issues and loss of property value.
The decision, however, needs to be put in its proper context. The ruling in Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc. had little to do with fracking practices. The family failed to prove fracking was to blame for health issues listed in Lisa Parr’s petition. In the end, the money awarded was only because drilling activities like trucking traffic, construction, etc. created a private nuisance. These bothers are part of normal drilling and are not specific to fracking related activity. In a similar case, Crowder et al. v. Chesapeake Operating Inc., the jury found drilling operations near Sam and Jane Crowder’s home to be a temporary nuisance. Their award amount was nowhere near as hefty as the Parr’s. Outcomes from both cases have led to experts predicting a trend of such lawsuits ‘against fracking.’
Neither of these cases found fracking as the evil culprit causing the plaintiffs health problems, and studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressing claims of well contamination have likewise failed to draw a connection between fracking and harms to human health. It is almost a year since the EPA abandoned its study to determine whether hydraulically fractured wells were to blame for water contamination in an aquifer near Pavilion, Wyoming. A similar fate befell a study in Weatherford, Texas at the beginning of last year. Both studies were abandoned and lacked evidence to link water contamination to fracking. The agency is instead focusing on a national study on hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water resources, with a draft due later this year.
The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) investigated complaints about increased methane and chloride in water wells in Parker County. TRRC released its report recently. The Commission Staff determined that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Barnett Shale production activities caused or contributed to methane contamination in the aquifer in question. This study highlights what drilling companies have told the public for decades. There have been zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing to date. With little to no concrete evidence tying fracking to water contamination or health issues, maybe it’s time to back off, drop the lawsuit hype, and keep the excitement around false claims to a minimum.
Like any innovative technique in the Oil and Gas industry -engineers will continue to perfect it, but for what it is today, let’s praise hydraulic fracturing for the opportunities it has brought to good ol’ Texas.