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North Texas Residents Lawsuits Claim Gas Drilling Contaminated Water

By Jay Gormley, CBS 11 News
File image of a natural gas well drilling rig. (credit: Getty Images/Michael Smith)

File image of a natural gas well drilling rig. (credit: Getty Images/Michael Smith)

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JUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – Five Residents who live near natural gas drilling sites have filed two lawsuits against three energy companies, accusing them of contaminating their drinking water with chemicals.

“Plaintiffs could not continuously use their water for drinking and washing because the well water intermittently turned an-orange/yellow color, tasted bad, and gave off a foul odor,” one of the three lawsuits alleges.

Denton County residents Doug and Diana Harris don’t have a high opinion of their tap water: The Justin couple claims their water turned nasty in 2008, after natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – began near their home.

“It smells like something dead, or like, rotten eggs,” they said.

The Harris’ filed their suit against Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, alleging that gas drilling is polluting their drinking water with high levels of aluminum, arsenic, barium and lead.

“We started getting a grey substance coming out of our water,” Doug Harris said. “We have no water. We have to go to the Laundromat. We have to get bottled water for all of our dogs and horses.”

Dallas attorney Windle Turley represents the Harris family. He has also filed another suit on behalf of Crowley resident Grace Mitchell against Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy and Colorado-based Encana Oil & Gas alleging similar damages. Devon and Encana declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.

Cheseapeake, however, blasted allegations that the problem is widespread.

“The suggestion of widespread water contamination in the Barnett Shale is totally false,” company spokesman Brian Murnahan said in a prepared statement. “It is irresponsible for lawyers to prey on people’s fears and misconceptions to encourage baseless lawsuits.”

However, Turley said he isn’t preying on anyone’s fears. The attorney maintains that each of his clients – which also includes Crowley residents Jim and Linda Scoma, who join Mitchell in suing Chesapeake – had safe drinking water before the drilling began.

“They keep saying it wasn’t their fault, but our property was fine before they started drilling,” Diana Harris said, echoing her attorney’s remarks.