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Missouri Lawyer Brings Nuisance Claims to Fracking Arena

                    By Jim Efstathiou Jr., Andrew Harris & Sophia Pearson –                  Jun 10, 2013 11:00 PM CT

Orlin Wagner/AP

A file photo from 2009 shows Charlie Speer, attorney at Speer Law Firm P.A. at a hog operation in Missouri. In 1999, Speer said he filed similar lawsuits against two hog farms in northern Missouri on behalf of a group of residents who said the smells and runoff from the factories constituted an “unreasonable use of their property.”

Six Pennsylvania families who sued Chevron Corp. (CVX) and units of The Williams Companies Inc. and WPX Energy Inc. (WPX) over hydraulic fracturing-related claims have turned to a Missouri lawyer who has used nuisance allegations to win cases against commercial animal feed operations.

Mark Ovaska/Redux

Men work on a gad drilling rig located in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Mark Ovaska/Redux

Complaints have come that say drilling has spoiled water and air, damaged roads, and altered the rural character of areas where gas is now being produced.

The Fayette County residents last week alleged in a state court lawsuit that the energy companies’ fracking efforts leaked methane and polluted water, while their employees intimidated them and even ruined a breeding stock of Black Angus cows. The focus of their lawsuit, however, isn’t the property damage so much as the offensive byproducts of the operations, a legal tactic that has begun to gain traction as courts consider the application of nuisance law to the natural gas boom.

“You avoid some of the really difficult causation issues,” Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview, referring to the difficulty in proving specific damages in fracking cases. “You could show an interference with use of and enjoyment of one’s property without conclusively demonstrating that a gas company for example had contaminated a particular water well.”

Nuisance suits are based in part on the loss of such use and enjoyment of property, often through noise, odors or vibration, as opposed to physical damage like poisoned water. The attorney for the families, Charlie Speer, of Speer Law Firm P.A. in Kansas City, claims such litigation in the fracking context may face an easier path through courts because it doesn’t rely on scientific evidence.



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