CONWAY, Ark. (CN) - Eight families sued a natural gas company for personal injuries they attribute to its fracking operations, which emit half a pound of toxic emissions per minute, 24 hours a day, year round.
The lawsuit comes two days after a Texas jury awarded $3 million in damages for fracking there, in what is believed to be the first jury award of its kind. Gas companies customarily settle such claims confidentially, or fight them vigorously, often with help from complaisant legislatures. Pennsylvania passed a law making it illegal for doctors to criticize the public health problems created by fracking. The law, though obviously unconstitutional, has so far survived scrutiny because the gas drillers, and the state, claim that the nature of the chemical slurry injected into the ground is a trade secret.
In the Arkansas case, in Faulkner County Court, Barbara Ramsey et al. sued the DeSoto Gathering Company. The plaintiffs "live adjacent to natural gas compressor and transmission stations" DeSoto operates, specifically, the Midge CPF-2 station in Pangburn and the Scotland CPF-2 station in Scotland, Ark.
"The entire process of purifying, compressing and transmitting shale gas through gas transmission pipelines constitutes an industrial development, which is incompatible with residential living," the complaint states. "The compressor units are injuriously loud and produce harmful levels of noise and toxic emissions. The noise produced by these compressor units is so loud that persons living next to those industrial facilities are harmed and injured by the noise, vibration, odor and pollution. ...
"The compressor stations emit huge amounts of methane and hydrogen sulfide, as well as other flammable, malodorous and noxious gases, chemicals and compounds, directly into the air. These substances are emitted are then allowed to flow freely off of the compressor station property and into the surrounding air and atmosphere."
The plaintiff families say they bought and lived in their homes for many years before DeSoto built the compression stations. What's more, they say, "Employees of the Defendant are aware that compressor stations like Midge 2 have exploded and caught fire, causing injuries and deaths in the immediate vicinity of the compressor stations.
"The plaintiffs' homes are within the blast/impact zone of the Midge 2 compressor station, the area which is likely to be impacted in the event the massive amounts of explosive natural gas or other flammable hydrocarbons on-site were to explode or catch fire."
They claim the compressors run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round, which cause damages, including "discomfort damages" to the plaintiffs.
"As a result of the constant operation of the compressor units, the compressor station continuously and constantly emits exhaust gases, methane, hydrogen sulfide and other flammable, malodorous and noxious gases that regularly flow from the Defendant's property in such a way as to cause injury and harm to your plaintiffs," the complaint states. "The station emits more than 135 tons per year of pollutants including carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (S02), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), fine particulate matter (PM/PM10), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), formaldehyde, benzene, and other volatile organic compounds (VOC's). This amount equates to more than 31 pounds of pollutants per hour, or a half pound of pollutants every single minute. All of those pollutants are released into the air and then migrate in such a way as to cause injury and harm to your Plaintiffs. No efforts are made to contain the emissions within the confines of the defendant's property."
They seek damages for strict liability, negligence, discomfort damages and personal injuries. Each plaintiff demands $3 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in punitive damages.
They are represented by Timothy Holton with Deal, Cooper & Holton, of Memphis, Tenn.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.