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David Hasemyer's articles

Judge Throws Out Texas Family's Fracking Pollution Case

Dismissal is in contrast to a case in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by fracking's emissions.

Aug 15, 2014

A Texas judge has dismissed a million dollar lawsuit filed by a Karnes County, Texas, family who say their lives have been ruined by noxious emissions from oil and gas facilities near their home.

District Judge Stella Saxon apparently accepted the argument made by Marathon Oil Corp. and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) that Mike and Myra Cerny didn't have enough medical and scientific evidence to prove to a jury that they have been sickened by oil field emissions.

Marathon applauded the ruling, while the Cernys' attorney said he'll file an appeal. Legal experts say the dismissal could have a chilling effect on others who may be considering legal action against the oil and gas industry.

The dismissal in Karnes County stands in stark contrast to a case in Dallas County earlier this year in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by emissions. That two similar cases could have such different outcomes highlights vagaries of both the justice and regulatory system in Texas, where the oil and gas industry is widely praised and supported.

Fracking Companies Fight Texas Families' Air Pollution Suits, Fearing Precedent

If two Texas couples win their cases, it could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry, legal expert says.

Aug 13, 2014

Two major oil companies have asked a Texas judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit that could draw new attention to the toxic air emissions from oil and gas production.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Mike and Myra Cerny, who say they can't enjoy the use of their home because of the benzene, toluene and other toxic chemicals released from nearby facilities owned by Marathon and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP). The Cernys are using the same argument that helped another Texas family, Bob and and Lisa Parr, win a groundbreaking, $2.9 million judgment against Aruba Petroleum last April: That the emissions created a nuisance that made their lives unbearable.

Air emissions are increasingly recognized as a problem in drilling areas throughout United States, with residents complaining of coughing, headaches, nosebleeds, rashes and dizziness. But lawsuits linking gas and oil production to health problems have been considered almost unwinnable, because few scientific studies have been done on how the industry’s emissions might affect human health.

Jane Barrett, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic, said that if the Parrs and Cerneys succeed, their cases could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry.

Barrett compared the two Texas cases with early lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry, which was once seen as immune to charges that it was responsible for the harmful effects of cigarettes.   

Bakken Oil Pipeline Would Bisect Minnesota, Cross 144 Waterways

Enbridge says it consulted with regulatory agencies and communities for a year and a half to select the best route, which faces intense public opposition.

Aug 6, 2014

Retired first grade teacher Beth Baker-Knuttila has so much she wants to tell the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission about why adding an oil pipeline near her beloved Portage Lake isn't a good idea.

On Thursday she'll have just three minutes to try to convince the PUC to reject a proposed Enbridge, Inc. pipeline that would cut across 144 lakes, streams and rivers, and skirt the shores of the Park Rapids lake that has been her home for 35 years.

The 616–mile Sandpiper pipeline is one of the first major pipelines designed to carry crude oil out of the booming Bakken Shale region of North Dakota. 

It will begin in the northwest corner of North Dakota and cross into Minnesota then pass 299 miles through the heart of the state to Superior, Wisc. Once running, it could carry nearly 10 million gallons of crude oil a day—an estimated 20 percent of the oil produced in the Bakken—to refineries in the Midwest and East and Canada.

Beth Baker-Knuttila stands in front of Portage Lake. Credit: Baker-KnuttilaBeth Baker-Knuttila stands in front of Portage Lake. Credit: Baker-Knuttila"There's just so much at stake here," Baker-Knuttila said. "It's not just about my home. It's about protecting the beautiful natural resources against some tragic accident."

For Rural Texans Overwhelmed by the Fracking Boom, Training to Fight Back

Workshops will teach residents of the booming Eagle Ford Shale how to report emissions and suspected water contamination.

Jul 16, 2014

Virginia Palacios wants to empower the people of south Texas. She and her organization, the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund, want them to know they can make a difference in the face of the oil and gas boom that’s sweeping the Eagle Ford region.

In partnership with the Rio Grande International Study Center, Palacios has helped develop a series of workshops in five heavily impacted counties in the Eagle Ford, a 400-mile-long swath of oil and gas development that reaches from northeast Texas to the U.S.-Mexico border. The goal is to let residents know what resources are available if they believe they are being sickened by toxic emissions, or their water is becoming tainted or their wells are being drained.

People accustomed to a quiet rural lifestyle have found themselves in the middle of a bewildering hubbub of 18-wheel oil trucks, heavy equipment, day and night drilling, smoky flares and leaking emissions. Since 2008, more than 7,000 wells have been sunk and another 5,500 have been approved, making the Eagle Ford one of America’s most active drilling areas.

Texas Sheriff Wants Criminal Charges Filed in Fracking Pollution Case

Hauling company that dumped toxic drilling waste over eight miles of road and never told authorities faces formal enforcement action.

Jul 9, 2014

A Texas waste hauling company that is already facing civil charges for a March accident that spread toxic drilling waste along a rural road could also be facing criminal charges.

Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva said he will ask county prosecutors to file a criminal complaint against On Point Services LLC after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Railroad Commission close their civil cases against the company.  

"We are prepared to ask the district attorney's office to review the case for action," Villanueva said. "There are two different levels of enforcement here: the civil by the state and the criminal by the county."

One Man's Mission to Curb Illegal Dumping of Texas Frack Waste

'If I can make this a better place for people to live, then I have done my job.'

Jul 1, 2014

ALICE, Texas—Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche parked his pickup across the road from a gas and oil waste dump and watched through binoculars as a container truck unloaded a mountain of black sludge.

Zertuche, the environmental crimes officer for Jim Wells County, is the law here when it comes to oil and gas waste. The job has fallen to him, he said, because the state's environmental agencies don't effectively police the disposal of the industry's waste. It typically contains benzene and other chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing, along with heavy metals and other contaminants from deep within the earth.

Zertuche draws his authority from the Texas Oil and Gas Waste Haulers Act, which is part of the state Water Code and is rooted in laws enacted almost a century ago during an earlier oil boom. It allows him to issue citations for everything from spilling waste along highways to not having the proper disposal permits.

"I want to make a difference for the people who live here," Zertuche said recently, as he waited outside the 80-acre Eco Mud Disposal facility. "If I can make this a better place for people to live, then I have done my job."

Major New Pipeline Proposed Next to Enbridge Line That Ruptured in 2010

ET Rover Pipeline Company has set a date of June 2017 to have the natural gas pipeline, which will cross Ohio and Michigan, running.

Jun 27, 2014

The wild grass is only now beginning to hide the scar left by the giant ditch digger that gouged a trench though Ron Kardos' Oceola Township, Mich. pasture last year for an oil pipeline—but already Kardos is preparing for another onslaught of construction.

Earlier this week Kardos got a letter from Energy Transfer Partners, a Houston, Texas-based company, saying a subsidiary—ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC—intends to build an interstate pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to a terminal in Ontario, Canada.

The 365-mile Rover Pipeline will cross Ohio and Michigan and ultimately carry 3.25 billion cubic feet per day if plans are approved. Much of the line would follow the route of the oil pipeline that Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge, Inc. built on Kardos' property and that of other central Michigan residents. It replaced Enbridge's aging Line 6b, which ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

Judge Upholds Jury Verdict for Family in Texas Fracking Case

Judge accepts jury verdict that awarded $2.9 million to family affected by air emissions from gas and oil wells near their Wise County home.

Jun 19, 2014
Bob and Lisa Parr at their wedding in 2008, with Lisa's daughter, Emma.

6/20/2014: This post has been updated to include a statement from Aruba.

The judge presiding over a pivotal case involving toxic emissions from gas and oil drilling has accepted a jury verdict that awarded $2.9 million to a family who said the emissions have made them sick.   

Judge Mark Greenberg issued a one page ruling late Thursday denying a motion by Aruba Petroleum to reject the jury’s verdict. Among Aruba’s arguments rejected by Greenberg were that Bob and Lisa Parr did not prove the emissions that made them sick came from Aruba wells.

The Parrs filed their lawsuit in March 2011, claiming they were "under constant, perpetual, and inescapable assault of Defendants’ releases, spills, emissions, and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial/hazardous wastes."

Following a two-week trial in April, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba "intentionally created a private nuisance" that affected the family's health and awarded the Parrs damages. The case is one of the first successful U.S. lawsuits alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production have sickened people living nearby.

Lisa Parr said Greenberg's ruling further validates the family’s claim of being made sick by emissions generated by Aruba.

Fate of $3M Fracking Damage Award for Texas Couple in Judge's Hands

If Judge Mark Greenberg decides in the Parr family's favor, the case could establish new legal standards for people fighting oil and gas industry.

Jun 18, 2014

A Texas judge will soon decide whether to accept a jury's $2.9 million award to a Wise County family who claims to have been sickened by emissions from the gas and oil wells surrounding their home.

In April, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba Petroleum, a Plano, Texas company, "intentionally created a private nuisance" that affected the health of Jim and Lisa Parr and their daughter. It appears to be the first successful U.S. lawsuit alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production sickened people living nearby.

More than 100 wells have been drilled within two miles of the Parrs' Decatur, Texas ranch, 60 miles northwest of Dallas. One of Aruba's arguments is that it owns only 22 of those wells, so the emissions could have come from one of its competitors' wells.

If County Judge Mark Greenberg decides in the Parrs' favor, legal experts say the case could establish new legal standards that would benefit people who are fighting the industry. But another Texas case, decided nearly two decades ago, is cause for caution.

Damage Award in Texas Fracking Case Raises Stakes in Air Quality Debate

Family's $2.9 million legal victory to be challenged. Aruba Petroleum says its emissions didn't harm family.

May 28, 2014

Between February 2010 and July 2011, Lisa and Bob Parr filed 13 complaints about air pollution from gas and oil operations near their ranch in Wise County, Texas. Sometimes they had trouble breathing, they told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). They also experienced nausea, nosebleeds, ringing ears and rashes.

Other families were also alarmed. Between 2008 and 2011, the TCEQ received 77 complaints from Wise County, in the Barnett Shale drilling area in North Texas. One said the odor was so powerful that the complainant "couldn't go outside," according to the TCEQ report.

Frustrated and angry, the Parrs decided to sue. Their attorney warned them that lawsuits against the oil and gas industry rarely, if ever, succeed. But the Parrs persisted and last month won what appears to be the first successful U.S. lawsuit alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production sickened people living nearby. A Dallas County jury found that Aruba Petroleum, a privately owned company based in Plano, Texas, "intentionally created a private nuisance" that affected the family's health and awarded the Parrs almost $3 million in damages.

"When you don't have a strong regulatory system, a system to prevent what happened to this family, the only place left to turn for help is the courts," said Robert Percival, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Program.