NEWS HEADLINES

Attorney general sues Aruba

By Brandon Evans | Published Sunday, March 20, 2011

Add the Texas Attorney General’s office to a list of those filing suits against an energy company operating a gas well site in the Allison community.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has filed a lawsuit versus Plano-based Aruba Petroleum for failing to get a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to emit air contaminants and for being a “regulatory nuisance” at a gas well located at the intersection of Star Shell Road and Lions Paw Court in east Wise County.

The state is asking that Aruba be fined a civil penalty of between $50 and $25,000 for each day of violation. The lawsuit stems from an investigation by TCEQ of the well site on July 25, 2010.

During the visit to the site, the TCEQ investigator found a total of 30 long-term and short-term air violations. The air pollution was at such a high level, the investigator said he suffered symptoms from the contaminants.

“The TCEQ investigator observed and documented that he experienced the physical effects of the odor emissions; specifically, he felt dizziness and a sore throat,” the suit contends.

These same symptoms, but on a much greater scale, are asserted in a suit by Bob and Lisa Parr, who live just down the road from the well site. They filed a suit against Aruba and several other operators in the area for ill effects to their health, which they allege stem directly from the concentration of 50 gas wells surrounding their property. Lisa Parr’s symptoms became so bad her doctor advised her to move out immediately.

She said some of the symptoms felt like something between “Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.” She also experienced a slew of rashes and nose bleeds. Since moving out of the home and into her husband’s office in Denton, many of the symptoms have subsided.

Aruba asserts it is immune to civil penalties from the attorney general’s office because they made a voluntary disclosure of the violations to the state on July 28, 2010. Their attorneys cite a section of the Audit Privilege Act that reads “a person who makes a voluntary disclosure of a violation of an environmental or health and safety law is immune from an administrative and civil penalty for the violation disclosed.”

The well site is actually located on the 10-acre property of Tim and Christine Ruggiero. Damages and contamination from the well site have already significantly devalued their home. In an unheard of move, the Wise County Appraisal Board reduced the taxable value of their home last September from $257,330 to $75,240.

Extensive air, soil and water contamination was cited as the cause for the reduction in value.

The Ruggieros have also filed a civil suit against Aruba for breach of contract, negligence, private nuisance and gross negligence.

Last month, TCEQ fined Aruba $35,500 for violations.

The Parrs and Ruggieros were featured as part of a Messenger series of articles, photos and video examining industrial pollution in Wise County last year. You can read those stories at wcmess.com/pollution.

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