Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Age-Old Legal Tool Poses Modern Threat for Oil and Gas

A gas drilling rig operates on the banks of the Trinity River just east of downtown Fort Worth. (Credit: Star-Telegram archives, David Kent) Click to enlarge.
When a Texas jury handed down a $3 million verdict this year for a family affected by natural gas drilling, Dan Raichel saw a pattern coming into focus.

Environmentalists had for years sought to slow the breakneck pace of shale development, but sophisticated attempts to challenge regulations or prove contamination had fallen short.  And yet, down in Texas, a driller was thwarted by something as simple as nuisance law.

The case centered on Bob and Lisa Parr, who lived atop the Barnett Shale and said they suffered health problems from the air emissions of nearby well sites. The jury found that the emissions disturbed the Parrs' property and constituted a private nuisance (see Texas Judge).

"Nuisance affects the whole fracking debate in a lot of ways," said Raichel, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.  "In a colloquial sense, it's pretty clear that fracking is a nuisance in a lot of these communities."

In a legal sense, nuisance claims cropping up around the country may prove surprisingly effective at reeling in development.  The high-dollar Texas verdict -- which dealt not specifically with fracking but with broader oil and gas operations -- serves as a harbinger of a very litigious future.

Age-Old Legal Tool Poses Modern Threat for Oil and Gas

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