Science and Law
7th May 2014

Texas Verdict Highlights Need for Stronger Science in Hydraulic Fracturing Litigation

The recent Texas verdict against Aruba Petroleum awarding $2.95 million to homeowners in a nuisance claim highlights the importance of developing a clear and cogent scientific defense in personal injury lawsuits.

Texas Verdict Highlights Need for Stronger Science in Hydraulic Fracturing Litigation

The recent Texas verdict against Aruba Petroleum awarding $2.95 million to homeowners in a nuisance claim highlights the importance of developing a clear and cogent scientific defense in personal injury lawsuits. The jury verdict form reveals awards for physical pain and suffering sustained in the past due to hydraulic fracturing activities conducted by Aruba.  A review of the legal complaint reveals that plaintiffs asserted numerous far-flung unsubstantiated anecdotal allegations, including pulmonary, GI, CNS, cardiac, and other adverse health effects that have no support from well conducted scientific studies. Rather, these complaints are supported by unreliable methods such as subjective perception.

Given the increasing scale of hydraulic fracturing activity in the United States, it is critical for oil and gas attorneys to be in a strong position to respond to plaintiff allegations that their adverse health effects resulted from exposures downstream of hydraulic fracturing activities.

More than ever, there is increasing scientific activity related to potential human and environmental effects as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Some of this science will be rigorously conducted and other times, the studies will be severely flawed and prone to producing unreliable results that will likely be used against companies engaging in hydraulic fracturing activities.

Given the wide variety of studies being conducted (water and air contamination, health effects, livestock, earthquake, gas well leakage, etc.), each study must be put into a human health context which takes into account the route of exposure, the age(s) of those exposed individuals, chronicity of exposure, as well as a variety of other factors.

For instance, early in 2013 the Degenstein Foundation awarded Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania a $1 million grant to fund a medical records study on the potential health impacts of Marcellus shale gas drilling. This is being touted as the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of natural gas production. Whatever information comes out of this study, it will be important to evaluate the data rigorously and to ensure the integrity of the interpretation of the findings.

On another front, a new interagency collaboration was forged bringing together the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) scientists to perform research related to airborne emissions and air quality at natural gas drilling sites.

Due to recent increases in studies addressing a possible association between hydraulic fracturing activities and health outcome, attorneys will increasingly require the help of subject-matter and testifying experts to help win their cases.

Innovative Science Solutions excels at evaluating human health risk from environmental and occupational exposures and putting that risk into an appropriate context. ISS has considerable experience in evaluating the health implications of a variety of exposures, including those that can stem from hydraulic fracturing activities, i.e., volatile organic compounds, airborne particulates, criteria pollutants and acid gases, and water contamination issues.

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