Eagle Ford Shale Oil Boom Leads to Increased Legal Activity

History of the Eagle Ford Shale

The Eagle Ford Shale is a 400-mile-long, 50-mile wide area that is littered with oil and gas extraction systems from Leon County, Texas to the Mexican border in the southwest. Since its discovery, more than 7,000 oil and gas wells have sunk into the shale, while another 5,500 have been approved by state regulators. This makes Eagle Ford one of the most active drilling sites in America. Energy companies, backed by state officials, plan on establishing thousands more wells throughout the area.

In the last few years, the discovery of oil plenty in this area has drawn the attention of some of the largest companies in Texas and even the nation. Tensions are as high as the prices of property in the area and, as Texan lawyers know, where there is oil, there is bound to be legal disputes. Sure enough, courts in the South Texas counties report that pending civil lawsuits including both tort-related and corporate issues are in the thousands.

The Oil Boom Heard Around the Shale

While the increased oil and gas development has helped the region—giving many residents money to ensure their futures, their children's futures, and their grandchildren's futures—many residents are suffering from the dangers associated with the race toward oil in the area. Residents in Karnes County report frequently seeing and smelling the results of oil and gas production. Many facilities are not required to file emissions data with the state, meaning there is no way to track the often potentially deadly chemicals they are emitting.

Texas' air monitoring system is so defective that the state is unaware of the extent of Eagle Ford Shale pollution. Only five permanent air monitors are utilized within the 20,000 square mile region—and all are set up on the borders of the shale, far away from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest. The state also permits thousands of facilities to self-monitor their emissions without reporting their findings to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is in charge of regulating most air emissions and is therefore unaware of the facilities that do not report their emissions.

Many individuals are seeking to file lawsuits against the gas and oil production facilities for many reasons:

  • Lease of land for gas removal
  • Noise and industrial production surrounding gas and oil removal
  • The effect of gas and oil removal on neighboring residents

Corporate Tensions Skyrocketing

The majority of legal work to date has been to mediate transactions, partnerships and contracts between the oil corporations wishing to glean from the area's oil and the local property owners concerned about their communities. Attorneys for oil giants such as ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil have been involved in establishing leasing agreements for thousands of acres of land.

Recently, the public platform witnessed just how intense corporate litigation can become when oil is in the picture. Dallas-based oil giant Longview Energy accused several former board members of stealing ideas concerning leasing and investing in land within Eagle Ford Shale. A significant judgment was made in favor of Longview, holding the defending Riley-Huff Energy Group liable to $59.5 million in damages. The judgment has since been challenged by Riley-Huff, which holds that the "ideas" Longview seeks to claim were mere hypothetical plans at the time that the alleged violations were made.

This is just one example of the types of cases that arise out of oil-furnished regions like Eagle Ford Shale. Corporations and individuals find themselves facing issues concerning:

  • Corporate fidelity
  • Fiduciary duty
  • Trade secrets
  • Unfair business practices
  • Employment and wage disputes

Loads of Oil, Loads of Truck Accidents

Another major area of concern in Eagle Ford Shale has been the busier roads. The oil being brought up from the ground in the area must be transported to refineries at some point, which brings into play the noticeably increased amount of large trucks on the roads of the small communities. These counties, made up of generally quaint ranching towns, do not have infrastructure designed to accommodate the type of traffic that has resulted from the oil boom.

Residents are highly concerned about the safety of the roads, as the number of fatal truck accidents in the area has grown exponentially. The Texas Department of Transportation reported almost 3,000 accidents involving either a fatality or serious injury in 2012. That number jumped almost seven percent the next year, to a total of almost 3,500 wrecks in 2013. Authorities are still unclear as to the exact reason for this influx of accidents but the oil industry is more than likely a contributing factor. Leaders in law enforcement, public safety and the oil industry are meeting to discuss efforts to increase road safety and reduce these tragic incidents.

If you or a loved one has been hurt or killed in an accident or by a disease in connection to the oil industry in the Eagle Ford Shale, contact Arnold & Itkin LLP to discuss your options for legal action today.

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