Last Friday, a Texas jury awarded a Tarrant County couple $20,000 in damages after finding activities at a natural gas drilling site located 165 feet from their property constituted a temporary private nuisance. The verdict comes less than a month after a Dallas County jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to plaintiffs for a private nuisance claim arising from fracking operations. Together, the two cases signify a growing trend in Texas of nuisance-based litigation involving oil and gas drillers.
Known as Crowder et al. v. Chesapeake Operating, Inc., the Tarrant County case was initially filed in November 2011 by plaintiffs Sam and Jane Crowder after a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corporation began extracting natural gas from three wells near their home. The Crowders contended that the fumes, noise, dust, and truck traffic generated by the drilling site substantially interfered with their ability to enjoy their property and asked for $108,000 in damages.
The six-person jury sided with the plaintiffs, despite the Crowders having entered into a drilling lease with Chesapeake Energy in 2007 for the five acre parcel where the wells are located. Even so, the jury refused to grant the Crowders their request for more than $80,000 in future damages, determining, instead, that the nuisance was temporary, not permanent. The verdict does not require Chesapeake Energy, one of the Barnett Shale play’s largest gas producers, to alter its activities at the well sites. The company has not issued a comment regarding the case’s outcome.
The verdict in Crowder comes as the number of cases involving nuisance-based claims targeting oil and gas producers is on the rise. For instance, after the verdict was released, the attorney representing the Crowders claimed to have eight similar lawsuits pending in various Texas counties. The jury awards in Crowder and the Dallas County case may encourage the filing of additional nuisance-related suits in the future. We will provide updates as further developments emerge.