The Texas Supreme Court reversed course Friday and decided to hear a case involving a $24.5 million judgment against Sabine Oil & Gas Corp. over radioactive contamination of a contracted landowner’s property, withdrawing its May decision denying review.
Please note that this has been going on for more than a decade… the battle started in 2004…. 2004!!! Read this from 2007:
When James McAllen speaks of his family’s South Texas ranch, dating back to at least 1791, he invokes happy memories of his five children growing up. He talks of working alongside his longtime ranch hands, of bobcats and birds, huisache and acacia trees.
But, the 69-year-old McAllen — whose iconic ancestors made the city of the same name possible with a large land donation — also tells a story of environmental spoil and invasion.
Not only do the new natural gas wells popping up all over the ranch in Linn wipe away acres of trees and all the animals that lived in them, he sadly says, but parcels of his home may be contaminated with radioactive dust. And its groundwater could be tainted with mercury.
In 1992, McAllen requested a donation of used oil field pipe from Forest Oil Corp., which operates a 3,000-acre lease on his property.
The conservation-minded rancher had just become the proud adoptive parent of a pair of endangered black rhinoceroses from Zimbabwe, and he wanted the pipe to build an enclosed pasture so the rhinos could run and eventually procreate.
“The final goal is that someday they can be reintroduced to their native habitat and be secure,” McAllen wrote to the company in his proposal.
Forest Oil made the donation in 1994, and McAllen built his pen.
But later, one rhino died while pregnant. McAllen reluctantly donated the male to the Fort Worth Zoo. He was never able to make sense of why his pet project failed.
Almost 10 years later, after McAllen’s leg was amputated because of a rare bone cancer, a recently retired Forest Oil worker came with devastating news: The pipes were radioactive.
“He walks in with this file box full of papers,” McAllen said. “It was tests of pipe joints. They had already removed my leg.”
“I about fell over.”
McAllen and others with a stake in the McAllen Ranch sued Forest Oil in 2005. After years of discovery and deposition-taking, and even an ongoing battle that is before the Texas Supreme Court, the case is slated to be heard before Judge Rose Reyna in Hidalgo County’s 206th state District Court this fall. But, McAllen isn’t claiming Forest Oil killed his rhinos or caused his cancer, said his lawyer and son-in-law, Chris Amberson.
“We’re making the claim of assault, the touching of our bodies and our lungs,” he said.
Is The Pipe Radioactive?
Forest Oil gave McAllen at least 700 pipe joints — thousands of feet of steel that had been used to pump natural gas from underground.
While some of it was used for the intended rhinoceros pen and stables, much of it was never touched until years later when Amberson, McAllen and ranch foreman Juan Luis Longoria Sr. said families and workers started using pieces to build car ports, trellises and fences around the ranch.
The pipe was heavy, McAllen said. They cut it into smaller pieces after hitting it with a hammer to knock loose what they thought was rust on the inside of the pipe.
But, that wasn’t rust at all, Amberson said.
The powdery substance was NORM, or naturally occurring radioactive material.
NORM is a natural by-product of oil and gas production, and health risks from external exposure to it are low.
However, ingest or inhale NORM, and it’s a different story.
“When you breathe this material, it stays in your body,” said Bob Free, manager of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Radiation Control Program, which investigates reports of incidents involving radioactive substances.
One type of NORM is formed when uranium decays into radium isotopes. Radium-226 is a “bone seeker,” meaning that when it gets into the body, it deposits itself on bones, Free said.
“When that happens, radium has such a long half-life, it’s pretty much there for the rest of the person’s life,” he said. Cancer is a concern.
Hidalgo County has high concentrations of radioactive metals in the land, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.
Amberson believes the smoking gun in the case is a NORM survey report from Oilfield Testers Inc. Bobby Pearson, the retired Forest Oil worker, had held onto it over the years.
It shows that of 368 pipe joints inspected from the well where some of the pipe given to McAllen originated, 204 pieces were found to have NORM radiation readings above the state limit for release into unrestricted use. The highest reading measured at three times the state limit, according to the report.
“It was supposed to have been marked (radioactive), but it never was,” said Pearson in a taped interview with Amberson.
Forest Oil denies ever giving “dirty” pipe to McAllen, though.
“Forest Oil did the cleaning and the testing before donating the pipe and fully believed the pipe donated was within state limits,” said lawyer Geoffrey Harrison, whose Houston-based firm Susman Godfrey LLP represents Forest Oil. Only one pipe missed the cleaning process, and it’s still on the pipe rack, he said.
Harrison said McAllen also approached other oil and gas companies with leases on his land for pipe.
“To this day, McAllen still has large numbers of joints of pipe that he received from other sources, not Forest Oil.
“In fact, although McAllen originally and incorrectly alleged in his case that he only used Forest Oil-donated pipe to build the rhino pen, very few joints of pipe donated by Forest Oil were actually used. It’s still sitting on the pipe racks, unused and untouched,” he said.
Read the rest of the story here: http://www.themonitor.com/news/local/radioactive-ranch/article_aa9f7710-f878-597d-ad34-88a4af8e020d.html
Another story and source of image used above: http://www.banderasnews.com/0704/nw-badpipes.htm
The man lost his leg to cancer by the way.
Here is how it was going in 2013: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/another-chapter-in-jimmy-mcallens-long-running-case-against-forest-oil/
and in 2014
There is some irony in Forest’s complaints about the arbitration award in light of its insistence that McAllen’s claims had to be resolved by arbitration. One of Forest’s arguments for overturning the award was that McAllen’s expert-testimony evidence of damages to the ranch would not have been admissible testimony in a trial court. The Court of Appeals cited the Texas Supreme Court’s conclusion that an arbitration award need not be based on admissible evidence. “For efficiency’s sake, arbitration proceedings are often informal; procedural rules are relaxed, rules of evidence are not followed, and no record is made.” Nafta Traders v. Quinn, 339 S.W.3d 84, 101 (Texas 2011).
Forest is sure to seek review by the Texas Supreme Court. So Jimmy McAllen’s ten-year fight with Forest is not quite over yet.
I bet with all the money Forest / now Sabine has spent on litigation they probably would have been better off settling and doing the right thing in the first place!!!