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David Hasemyer's articles

$2.9 Million Fracking Verdict Against Texas Oil Company Survives Another Challenge

Judge denies Aruba's request for new trial in case involving Texas family suffering from noxious air emissions. Aruba says it will appeal.

Sep 16, 2014

The stage has been set for an appeal of a high profile verdict against a Texas oil and gas company after a judge refused to grant a new trial in the case of a family sickened by noxious air emissions.

Judge Mark Greenberg has denied a motion by Aruba Petroleum for a new trial, letting stand the $2.9 million jury award to Lisa and Bob Parr who sued the company after gas and oil wells surrounded their once rural ranch south of Dallas.

Greenberg's one sentence order didn't offer a reason for his decision. It simply said: "Aruba Petroleum's motion for new trial is ... denied."

Clock Ticking for Texas Families to Take Legal Action on Fracking Pollution

Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they notice a problem until they file a lawsuit.

Sep 9, 2014

Attorney Tomas Ramirez is confident he'll win an appeal in the case of a Karnes County, Texas family who sued two oil companies claiming their lives had been ruined by toxic emissions.

But even a win on appeal could take up to two years, and Ramirez thinks the delay could discourage other people from filing similar claims.

The difficulty is that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they become aware of a problem until the time they file a lawsuit. The Eagle Ford Shale boom in Karnes County began in 2012, bringing it with it thousands of oil and gas wells and the kinds of emissions that Mike and Myra Cerny said made them sick.

For people in the Eagle Ford Shale, where the Cernys live, that means time is ticking to near zero, said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.

Oil and Gas Wastewater Pits Draw Fine for Toxic Releases

Facility in Utah doubles in size without a proper permit for emissions of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene and xylene.

Sep 3, 2014

A commercial facility that disposes of oil and gas waste in Eastern Utah has been fined $50,000 for releasing excessive amounts of benzene and other volatile organic compounds without a state air emissions permit.

Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for Utah's Division of Air Quality Compliance, said the agency doesn't have "a lot of experience" when it comes to regulating waste pits because so little is known about them, a problem common in other states where hydraulic fracturing is generating vast quantities of contaminated waste water.  

"It's not like a smokestack that you can get a pretty good idea of what's coming out," Ruby said.

In this case, the violation became clear when Utah officials discovered that Danish Flats Environmental Services had nearly doubled the size of its operation without obtaining an emissions permit.  Ruby said the Colorado-based firm's unpermitted operation was exceeding emissions regulations under the federal Clean Air Act and state law.

Enbridge Faces Maximum Fine of $86 Million for Kalamazoo Spill

The company told regulators in a filing it expects to pay at least $22 million. The EPA, which will assess the fine, is mum.

Aug 28, 2014

12:30 PM ET on 8/28/204: This story has been updated with information from the EPA.

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has almost finished cleaning up its 2010 spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must decide how much it will fine Enbridge for causing one of the biggest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer declined to speculate on the amount of the fine. But according to the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Enbridge expects it will be at least $22 million.

"Discussions are ongoing with the relevant government agencies, and it is premature to discuss negotiations at this time," Springer said.

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."