Fracking Lawsuit Looks a Tad Weaker Now that We're Having Earthquakes Every 45 Minutes

Forget about the end times. The real issue is whether 11 earthquakes in 27 hours is enough to poison the jury pool.

Remember? In August 2013, a gas drilling company sued us for $30 million -- sued our city, that is -- for denying fracking permits close to churches, homes and parks. So you have to wonder: If that piece of business went to court now, how could the judge seat a jury of people in this entire area who haven't had their teeth rattled and the shit scared out of them by this weird plague of earthquakes centered near the former Texas Stadium?

See also: One More This Morning Makes Ten

I'd love to sit in on that jury selection process. "Of those of you whose homes have been shaken by multiple earthquakes, how many of you care?"

Or, more to the point: "How many of you are confident that the scores of earthquakes have nothing whatsoever to do with damn fracking? Of those of you who are confident, how many of you can name the president of the United States?"

Granted, scientists are not quite ready to lay blame for the shaking on fracking or the underground disposal of drilling waste from all those wells just yet, and the Texas Railroad Commission gets touchy about speculation along those lines. Hey, maybe the sudden spate of quakes here since 2008 is coinky-dink. Want to bet your lawsuit on that?

The company that sued Dallas, Trinity East, had a couple toes to stand on: In 2008 our brilliant City Council voted to take a check for $19 million from them -- quickly cashed and spent, of course -- in exchange for 3,600 acres of mineral rights within the city. But that deal came straight out of the closed-door good-old-boy system at City Hall -- same people who sponsored the Trinity toll road -- where everything is under the table and nobody knows about a deal until the deal is already done.

In February 2013, we found out that former City Manager Mary Suhm had been working for Trinity East since 2008, helping them get their deal done, and we only found that out because council persons Angela Hunt and Scott Griggs managed to bust out a secret memo revealing it.

See also: "Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal."

Suhm had promised the council she would work to make sure there was no fracking in parks. The memo showed she had agreed to help Trinity East get a deal for fracking in parks.

I never blamed Suhm as much as some people did. Her job was always to scarf up all the money she could for stuff like the toll road, just about any way she could, even if meant selling the city's parks down the river. The real villains were the rest of the council who went along with it. May I please mention again -- one of my favorite stories -- that when Hunt called Suhm out on the secret side deal, council member Vonciel Jones Hill compared Hunt to Haman, the killer of the Jews in the Bible's Book of Esther. Huh? OK, see what I mean?

The first thing City Hall did when Trinity East filed suit was take the whole matter back behind closed doors where it started. The city and the company agreed that the most important thing for both to do was handle their differences in secret and keep the prying eyes of the public out of the whole fracking question.

And you can see their point. The city and Trinity East were doing just fine together until Hunt and Hill turned the light on. But now back to my original question: What about those earthquakes? How do you keep those secret?

Presumably, one side or the other should have some leverage in the threat of taking it to court rather than settling. The courthouse and an actual trial ought to look better to one of them than the other. And in fact until the whole city started shaking like a bowl of Jell-O all the time, I might have thought it was Trinity East that would have had the edge at trial. Dallas did take their check and spend it, then denied them the right to drill.

But, c'mon. The entire Trinity East argument -- the argument of the entire fracking industry, in fact -- is that fracking is safe and harmless as kittens with a ball of string. So I ask again: eleven earthquakes in 27 hours?

Eleven earthquakes in 27 hours? Eleven earthquakes in 27 hours?

The jurors are going to look at those Trinity East dudes and see horns and tails on them. Talk about Haman. I'm not saying the city should hope or try to go to court. Always better to settle if you can. But they absolutely should not offer more than five dollars and a kick in the ass.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze