Frack and Run

A Texas jury awarded $2.9 million to a family living in what sounds like fracking heaven (or hell):

According to the lawsuit, Aruba Petroleum had 22 natural gas wells within a 2-mile radius of the Parrs’ property, with three wells in close proximity to their Texas home. The closest was 791 feet away.

As a result of poor management and lack of emission controls, Aruba Petroleum created a “private nuisance” to the Parr family by producing harmful air pollution and exposing them to harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds, toxic air pollutants and diesel exhaust, the lawsuit said.

Tests showed that the mother had 22 different chemicals in her body, the 11 year-old daughter suffered from nosebleeds, and so on. The story quotes some energy company attorneys saying it was a “knee-jerk” reaction, but the real question is how this stone loser made it to a jury, since it sounds like the other companies involved made the wise decision to settle out of court.

One of the benefits of living in a blue state is that New York doesn’t allow fracking, yet. I assume it will happen someday after the lessons learned in states like Texas and Pennsylvania are incorporated into tough environmental regulations. Unless there’s some kind of seepage in natural gas fracking and Pennsylvania drinks our milkshake, the billions of cubic feet of gas trapped in New York’s Marcellus Shale isn’t going anywhere. Of course, the gas in those other states wasn’t going anywhere either, but the free market dictated that families needed to be poisoned in the unnecessary, unregulated rush to extract it as quickly as humanly possible. Money will still be made in New York, but with any luck we’ll skip the poisoning.

(via Violet in the comments)

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37 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    The problem with our tort system is that it is mainly designed to compensate the victim. As a result, it puts companies in the driver’s seat in determining the cost/benefit of human life and suffering. Punitive damages are supposed to help with that problem, but the Supreme Court has cut back that remedy. Regulations also can fill the gap, but you know how well those are received.

    Imagine what the reaction would be if the only remedy for theft of company property were that the theif had to return the property, and you get a sense of how the rules often operate at the disadvantage of regular people.

  2. 2
    debbie says:

    That Liz Phair attitude’s exactly what is needed to fight these fracking animals.

  3. 3
    RepubAnon says:

    As the whole point of fracking is to make the petrochemicals mobile enough to get to the well for extraction, natural gas in New York’s shale won’t be pulled from the ground via Pennsylvania-based fracking operations.

    The real problem, of course, is the lack of long-term planning. As the old joke went, long term planning on Wall Street is the end of the current fiscal quarter (today, long-term Wall Street planning is anything over 60,000 milliseconds in the future.) Instead of trying to cash in right away, why not leave all that natural gas in the ground until we need it?

  4. 4
    kdaug says:

    Nobody skips the poisoning

  5. 5
    kbuttle says:

    Yeah, I’m afraid this is right. It’s a matrix we can never quite understand, much less visualize, so some leakage seems inevitable.

  6. 6
    Jennifer says:

    @Baud: Supreme Court imposed restrictions on punitive damages? Did I sleep through that one? I’m being serious; ever since I watched Hot Coffee I’ve been trying to keep more up to date on the whole tort deform effort.

    If any of you haven’t seen Hot Coffee yet, you should. It’s all about how corporations have chipped away at the laws that (theoretically) can hold these immortal “persons” to account. It was an HBO documentary, so you can see it on HBO GO and I think it’s available on Netflix now as well.

  7. 7
    Jennifer says:

    @kbuttle: The industry expects over 30% of casings to fail within something like 10 years. So it doesn’t just seem inevitable; it’s established fact.

  8. 8
    Baud says:


    Yes. A few years ago. Can’t find link now.

  9. 9
    maya says:

    Well then, they will just have to resort to fricking in New York State, won’t they?

  10. 10
    EriktheRed says:

    We have a fracking “boom” in Illinois, too.

    Thankfully, it’s happening in the south and I live in the north.

  11. 11
    J R in WV says:

    But no amount of money can re-establish the health of these folks!

    Essentially the company is guilty of attempted murder, they knew there would be “releases” of a wide variety of gases and volatile liquids before the first well was drilled.

    And they knew that these releases would have severe adverse effects on everyones’ health within breathing distance. They didn’t care. They were completely irresponsible in every way.

    So I think this company should suffer the proper penalty: it should be put to death! Disassembled, sold off, all profits to the victims. Employees left unemployed. Managers in jail.

    Perhaps this kind of enforcement would inhibit this kind of irresponsible behavior, I doubt it, but perhaps.

    I actually expect some judge to decide that this award is out of proportion to the actions of the company, which were typical of the industry, and so shouldn’t be treated as a tort at all. Really, this amount of money won’t even cover their health costs as they slowly die from exposure to toxic substances.

    And think of the daughter as she becomes a wife. Will she dare to attempt to become a mother? How will that work out for the future generations? These substances can cause genetic abnormalities, after all. But the company just did business as usual.

    Business as usual. Gack!

  12. 12
    WaterGirl says:

    @J R in WV:

    Ridiculous profits – penalties for death & injury = ridiculous profits

    It’s a win for them. Disgusting. They should be called serial killers.

  13. 13
    Yatsuno says:

    @WaterGirl: Wake me when a corporate person can get the death penalty. OH WAIT IT CAN!!! Corporate charters can be revoked by governing bodies, but that would be un-Merikan!

  14. 14
    Violet says:

    Oh, good! Thanks for front paging this. I hope Cole gets to see it.

    I wonder how much precedent this will set for other companies in other states.

  15. 15
    scav says:

    Accountability for actions performed harms shareholders. Can’t have that. Given the clear and present danger accountability also poses to executive bonuses and their children’s’ peace of mind and well-being (will no one think of the innocent children! losing ponies!) it really is revealed as just another means of class warfare and envy.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    There is a very simple solution to the fracking problem.

    Require the executives of any energy company that seeks to use fracking to extract natural gas to live on site, along with their families.

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Instead of trying to cash in right away, why not leave all that natural gas in the ground until we need it?

    The energy companies need the hookers and blow RIGHT FRACKING (reimagined Battlestar Galactica sense) NOW!

  18. 18
    sharl says:

    Hmm, “Aruba Industries”. Aruba sounds foreign. Maybe those Captains of Industry could have avoided this legal harassment, or at least mitigated it somewhat, with a better corporate name? Freedom Industries was already taken, by those fine patriots who had that oopsie on the Elk River in Charleston WV.

    Maybe something like Star-Spangled Second Amendment Baby Jesus War Eagle Industries would have helped. Yeah, I bet it would have…

  19. 19
    Violet says:

    The last paragraphs in the article:

    Perhaps surprisingly to some, Lisa Parr says she’s not opposed to the work oil companies do. She simply wants them to do their business responsibly, she said.

    “We are not anti-fracking or anti-drilling. My goodness, we live in Texas. Keep it in the pipes, and if you have a leak or spill, report it and be respectful to your neighbors. If you are going to put this stuff in close proximity to homes, be respectful and careful.”

    She wants them to be responsible. They weren’t before. I wonder if there is anything that would assist in the companies being more responsible. Like maybe some kind of third party keeping an eye on them? Some kind of rules they have to follow? No…that can’t be it.

  20. 20
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Violet: I once heard stories about something called regulations.

  21. 21
    MikeJake says:

    All the forecasting about America becoming the next Saudi Arabia has the effect of putting overoptimistic ideas in our heads about our future energy independence, jobs and $$$, which creates momentum for going ahead with it, damn the consequences. Just like tech, they overpromise and they’ll underdeliver.

  22. 22
    Violet says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Communist! Real Murkins dare not even think the word!

  23. 23
    coloradoblue says:

    Just wait until the K-RATS on the supreme court get their corrupt little paws on this. They’ll throw the judgement out, immunize the fracking industry and just for the hell of it overturn all local and state-wide fracking bans.

    And if those bastards don’t overturn fracking bans on this case (it would be a stretch even for them) their is currently in Colorado a lawsuit against the city of Longmont which passed a fracking ban locally. Oh, and our Ha-ha ‘Dem’ governor has ordered the state to side with the oil company on this.

  24. 24
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Just like tech, they overpromise and they’ll underdeliver.

    However, during the process they’ll extract a boatload of money that will have to be berthed in the Cayman Islands for storage.

  25. 25
    sharl says:

    On the general topic of U.S. domestic fracking, there may develop a potential – and if it comes about, very unfortunate – tie-in to our foreign policy. I might be tempted to dismiss it as a distracting exercise in hand-wringing, except the potential tie-in is advanced by Naomi Klein, who is pretty good about doing her homework in advance of posting.

  26. 26
    JGabriel says:

    mistermix @ top:

    One of the benefits of living in a blue state is that New York doesn’t allow fracking, yet.

    But Cuomo came this close to allowing it. Cuomo has got to go. I hope the Working Families Party puts up an electable alternative to Cuomo’s left in the next gubernatorial election.

  27. 27
    James E. Powell says:

    As we used to say back when I was an insurance defense attorney – Let me know when they get the check.

    The article I read reported a jury verdict, so we still have post verdict motions and an appeal to follow. If that doesn’t work, the company can always file Chapter 11, then Chapter 7.

    How did that $5 billion verdict in the Exxon Valdez case turn out?

  28. 28
    JGabriel says:

    Omnes Omnibus:

    I once heard stories about something called regulations.

    Myths and legends. They may have had some foundation in fact once upon a time, but nowadays they are just fairy tales we tell children to allay their fears of the capitalism monster.

  29. 29
    srv says:

    So what if she’s got 22 chemicals in her body – how do we know any of them are bad for her?

    Given all the wells in TX, I really wonder how long that gas is going to last.

  30. 30
    Citizen_X says:

    Unless there’s some kind of seepage in natural gas fracking

    There isn’t. Otherwise you wouldn’t have to frack the reservoir.

  31. 31
    bago says:

    I’m sorry that you think you can drop earthquakes and poisonings on us like a vengeful god. Can you put a few million into the kitty to pay out damages first?

  32. 32
    RepubAnon says:

    @Yatsuno: The difference between a corporation-person and a person-person is that it is much easier to bring dead corporations back from the dead. The way it’s done is:

    1) the folks that own the soon-to-die corporation to form a new corporation

    2) The soon-to-die corporation sells its assets (but not its liabilities) to the new corporation

    3) The soon-to-die corporation waits for long enough so that the bankruptcy court can’t reverse the sale, then files for bankruptcy and dissolves itself.

    It’s a fairly common occurrence, and it works until someone gets hit for enough money to try to “pierce the corporate veil.”

  33. 33
    Mike G says:

    As a result of poor management and lack of emission controls

    Isn’t that the Texas state motto?

  34. 34
    Russ says:

    Money, the bane of our existence.

  35. 35
    Aaron says:

    Once again the we should be in awe of the wisdom of the founding fathers. The 7th amendment provides for a trial by a jury of ones peers, and not just in criminal trials but civil trials as well. The founding fathers knew that if you could get your issue before a jury, your fellow citizens could do the right thing. And this was a check on the power of the rich and powerful who might rewrite the laws to protect themselves.
    It enrages me when the republican controlled supreme court upholds arbitration clauses in employment. Women have complained of being raped in Iraq while in the employ of US companies, by their fellow contractors, and then held in solitary confinement until they can be shipped out of the country back to the US. They are then told that their secrecy clause of the contract prohibits them from complaining publicly and the Arbitrator, who works for a group that has a contract with the employer, provides a surprisingly small payout.

  36. 36
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    Actually, the woman has many more than 22 chemicals in her body – we can start with water, carbon dioxide, DNA, the multitudinous enzymes she needs to keep living. Hemoglobin is nice, as is the calcium carbonate and the protein fibers in the collagen that holds it together in her bones. And lots more.

    I think that what was intended was something like “22 chemicals not normally in human bodies” or “22 chemicals that could be traced to the fracking operation.”

    I’m concerned about the safety and care with which fracking operations are conducted, but when I read something like that, I start to wonder whether it’s the reporter or the legal case that has something badly wrong.

  37. 37
    Jado says:

    Sorry, the poison comes with the fracking. You can’t get the frog without the peche

    There’s frog a la peche, which is a frog done in Cointreau and with a peach stuffed in its mouth And, ah, then, of course, there’s peche a la frog, which is really not much to write home about. A waiter comes to your table. He’s got this huge peach on it, which is covered in boiling liqueur, you see, and he slices it open to reveal about two thousand little black tadpoles squiggling about. It’s one of the most disgusting sights I’ve ever seen. God, it turns me over to think of it. Squiggle, squiggle, they go.

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