More than 15 million Americans have lived within a mile of a fracked well since 2000. The Parr family are just three of those people, but with a recent landmark victory over Aruba Petroleum, they have set an important precedent for the problematic practice of fracking.
Coincidentally, Parr v. Aruba Petroleum Inc. was settled April 22 — Earth Day — and the jury awarded the Texas residents $2.95 million for the serious health issues they faced due to three fracked wells near their home.
As various environmentalists have claimed, Parr v. Aruba Petroleum was the first landmark ruling on fracking in U.S. history. It’s an important victory, but one caused by drilling should be more closely investigated.
Short for hydraulic fracturing, fracking is a controversial technique used in 15 states to obtain gas and petroleum. In the process, frackers pump a mix of water, chemicals and sand into rock at high intensity to break the shale around a natural gas well and allow the gas to flow to the surface.
With one well just 791 feet away from the Parr family’s residence, the family suffered from nosebleeds, rashes, vision problems and “vomiting white foam.” The fracking of the wells was poorly managed and followed less-than-stringent emission controls that need to be fixed to keep people safe.
The Parr family was exposed to harmful air pollution and toxic emissions and exhaust, causing them to develop health issues that could have been prevented with a better understanding of the effects of fracking.
Sources report Aruba is planning to appeal the verdict with the argument that they were following Texas state standards and did not cause the Parr family’s health problems. If this is the case and Aruba was adhering to state standards, it is crucial to examine the state regulatory standards to ensure fracking is done safely. If that is not possible, eliminating the practice is the only option.
In 2011, Texas became the first state to require full public disclosure of the chemicals used during fracking, but the state has not passed any major bills outside of mild transparency laws. There are no additional testing regulations for pre-drilling, groundwater or solid waste in relation to fracking practices in Texas.
But in California, Senate Bill 4 (SB4) was passed in September 2013 to impose stricter standards on locations where companies are permitted to frack and the chemical’s effect on air and groundwater, starting in January 2015.
An amendment changes the bill’s language from “permit” to “notice,” which environmentalists say will allow fracking to continue to slide by the California Environmental Quality Act. Since standards state that only permits trigger a state environmental impact report, there are loopholes putting people’s safety at risk.
SB4 creates transparency between oil companies and California residents, but cities like Beverly Hills are beginning to ban fracking completely, citing its damage to air and water pollution and its ability to increase the chance of earthquakes.
Other California cities, including Los Angeles, are drafting motions to ban fracking until more research is complete. Politicians and environmentalists from both Southern California cities claim there is no safe way to frack, and it is not a sustainable way to access gas or petroleum.
Banning fracking in as many states and municipalities possible is the safest way to prevent residents like the Parr family from suffering, and will end reckless pollution and water contamination.
Allowing companies to profit at the expense of people’s health is never the right answer. Clean sources of energy can be expensive, but if cheaper methods such as fracking threaten public safety, those expenses are clearly necessary.
There were 22 natural gas wells owned by Aruba Petroleum within two miles of the Parr family’s house when they got sick during construction. The connection is clear, and until all the effects of fracking are proved, it is not acceptable to continue this practice at the risk of the public’s health.
The legal victory speaks for itself, but instead of becoming a precedent, state politicians need to think more carefully about tightening regulations on fracking to avoid these lawsuits altogether.