Trial begins in Texas hydraulic fracturing lawsuit

On April 8, 2014, opening arguments were heard in the case of Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc., Cause No. 11-01650-E (Dallas County Ct. at Law, Mar. 8, 2011), a lawsuit in which the Parr family claims that they have serious health problems due to defendant’s oil and gas development activities, including hydraulic fracturing. This is one of the first cases to go to trial alleging medical injuries linked to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

In January 2014, the court severely limited the family’s lawsuit by dismissing the claims for negligence and negligence per se and only allowing the nuisance and trespass claims to go forward. For the family’s personal injury damages, the court ruled that these would be limited to injuries that were “within the common knowledge and experience of a layperson” and barred recovery for “any claim that defendants’ actions caused a disease that occurs genetically and for which a larger percentage of the causes are unknown.” The court also disallowed expert testimony, stating that “the sequence of events is such that a layperson may determine causation without the benefit of expert evidence.”

In opening argument, counsel for the Parr family explained that, since 2008 when defendant began to drill numerous gas wells in the area surrounding the family’s home, they have suffered numerous medical problems, at times so severe that they could not work and had to leave their home. Due to defendant’s natural gas activities, including hydraulic fracturing, flaring, venting, and discharges of hazardous gases, the Parr family claims to have experienced serious health effects, with medical tests revealing the presence of natural gas chemicals, compounds, and metals, including among others ethylbenzene and xylene.

Defense counsel advised the jury that the Parr family could not prove that one of its wells made them sick since there are at least 22 wells within a two-mile radius of the residence and that there is no proof of diminished air quality at the home following drilling, asserting that its wells stayed within the air quality limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission. Counsel also explained that the company operates within industry standards and best practices. As for the Parr family’s medical conditions, counsel stated that evidence would be presented to show that the family suffered from these same maladies before the companies started drilling.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.