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Focus on Regulation

Antero Resources Secures First Hydraulic Fracturing Toxic Tort Decision

Last week, in what is believed to be the first hydraulic fracturing tort case in the nation to reach a final decision, a Colorado trial court dismissed a personal injury and property damage lawsuit arising out of the drilling, hydraulic fracturing and development of natural gas wells in western Colorado.  The lawsuit, Strudley v. Antero Resources Corporation, et al., 2011CV2218 (Denver Dist. Ct. 2012), was brought by William Strudley and his family against Antero Resources, which owns the wells, and two of Antero’s contractors involved in the drilling and the hydraulic fracturing.

The Strudleys brought claims for negligence, nuisance, trespass, and strict liability alleging that the companies contaminated the Strudleys’ air and well water and injured their health, entitling them to compensatory and medical monitoring damages.  The purported physical injuries were nowhere identified in the complaint or the plaintiffs’ initial disclosures.  The defendants brought this deficiency to the court’s attention at the very outset of the case, along with evidence calling into serious question the validity of the plaintiffs’ claims, which included the results of testing done by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that showed no contamination of the Strudley property.  In light of this information, defendants requested, and the court entered, a Lone Pine case management order, which stayed most pretrial proceedings and discovery, and ordered the Strudley family to come forward with sufficient evidence, including expert opinion, to show they were exposed to contamination from the defendants’ operations and harmed as a result.  The Strudleys failed to do so.  Instead, in their response to the order, they merely repeated the vague allegations of harm from the complaint and provided an affidavit from a toxicologist who concluded only that more studies were required before he could reach a conclusion about whether the defendants caused any exposure or harmed the plaintiffs. The defendants then requested the court dismiss the case with prejudice based on the failure to comply with the court’s order.  The court agreed and dismissed the case on May 9, 2012, in a detailed written opinion.

This decision is significant because the defense’s case management strategy — requesting that evidence of causation and harm be presented early in the proceedings — effectively saved all parties significant time and money by achieving an early dismissal.  See the attached Grand Junction, Colorado, Daily Sentinel article for more information.