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Texas Family Awarded $3 Million in Nation's First Fracking Trial
It took three years, but a Texas family finally emerged victorious in a case that could long impact fracking companies and the impact they have on the communities in which they operate.
A Dallas jury favored the Parr family, which sued Aruba Petroleum back in 2011 after experiencing an array of health issues attorneys argued were the result of dozens of gas wells in the area. The family was awarded nearly $3 million in what attorneys believe was the first-ever fracking trial in U.S. history.
“They’re vindicated,” family attorney David Matthews wrote in a blog post. “I’m really proud of the family that went through what they went through and said, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore'. It takes guts to say, ‘I’m going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.’
"It’s not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through.”
The family lives in Wise County, which is surrounded by gas wells from Aruba Petroleum and other firms. Bob, Lisa and their young daughter, Emma, all noticed the deterioration of their health in the months after fracking operations begin in the immediate area, some time in 2008. Lisa reported breathing difficulties, nausea and headaches, while Bob said he began having about three nosebleeds per week, compared to the rest of the 50-year-old's life.
"We can't drink our well water," Bob Parr told FOX 4 of the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2011. "We can't breathe the air without getting sick."
Young Emma also suffered nosebleeds, along with rashes and nausea. She was soon diagnosed with asthma.
The Parr's lawsuit certainly wasn't the first lawsuit brought against an energy company for fracking-related health issues, however most plaintiffs are paid off with stern gag orders. In 2013, The Observer-Reporter in southwest Pennsylvania reported that Range Resources paid a family living near the Marcellus Shale wells $750,000 in a settlement that the company initially wanted to keep quiet.
The Parr victory could be a game-changer.
"When evidence of fracking’s impacts are shown to an impartial jury in a court of law, they find them to be real and significant," Earthworks Energy Program Director Bruce Baizel wrote in a statement. "And it shows why the fracking industry is reluctant to allow lawsuits of this type to go to trial.
"Instead, fracking companies try to force out of court settlements that gag the harmed family as a condition for financial compensation. They almost always succeed, hiding from the public the proof of fracking’s dangers. Consequently, industry and government continue claiming fracking is harmless."
According to MSNBC, Aruba Petroleum plans to appeal the jury’s decision. Since there are dozens of other operations in the area, the company argued that it was impossible to know which well or wells caused the family's injuries. Other companies settled with the Parrs.
"We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking’s dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe," Baizel said.
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By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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