Fracking Challenge Leads to $3M Jury Verdict

     DALLAS (CN) - A Texas jury awarded a family approximately $3 million in what is believed to be the first verdict of its kind finding injuries from fracking.
     Lisa and Robert Parr, of Decatur, sued Plano-based natural gas driller Aruba Petroleum Inc. in Dallas County Court for negligence, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass and private nuisance.
     The 2011 complaint alleged that the release of hazardous gases, chemical and industrial waste from nearby fracking made their family sick, killed pets and livestock, and hurt quality of life on their 40-acre ranch.
     Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is the practice of drilling and injecting the ground with highly pressurized fluid, breaking shale rocks that release natural gas.
     Aruba countered that it complied with air quality and drilling safety guidelines set by the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
     Encana Oil & Gas was also named as a defendant, but an agreed judgment and order of dismissal signed last week shows that the Parrs settled their claims against that Calgary, Alberta-based company.
     On Tuesday, a Dallas County jury awarded the Parrs $275,000 for loss of market value in their property, $2 million for past physical pain and suffering, $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering, and $400,000 for past mental anguish.
     The Parrs' attorney, David Matthews in Houston, applauded the verdict in a blog post.
     "I'm really proud of the family that went through what they went through and said, 'I'm not going to take it anymore,' Matthews wrote. "It takes guts to say, 'I'm going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.' It's not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through."
     Aruba told jurors the Parrs could not prove it was one of its wells that caused their illnesses because dozens of other drilling rigs were nearby, Matthews said.
     Environmental groups have long criticized the environmental drawbacks of fracking and cheered Tuesday's verdict in the closely watched case.
     Bruce Baizel, energy program director for Earthworks, said the verdict shows why the industry is reluctant to allow these suits to go to trial.
     "Fracking companies try to force out of court settlements that gag the harmed family as a condition for financial compensation," he said in a statement. "They almost always succeed, hiding from the public the proof of fracking's dangers. Consequently, industry and government continue claiming fracking is harmless."