The Eagle Ford Shale region in Texas is making a few people in the San Antonio area very happy, and very wealthy. But the news is not so good for others, such as one couple’s ongoing nightmare in nearby Karnes County. Michael and Cassandra Harms moved into their first home together—10 acres with “a two story home that was just the right size for starting a family.” But before their dreams could be realized, they got sick, and upon investigating, found the cause to be arsenic in their water source resulting from nearby gas-well facility, according to this local news article. Following the advice of a San Antonio oil and gas attorney, they moved out.
After hearing the urgency in the voice of their San Antonio oil and gas attorney, the couple moved out immediately, on Christmas Day. The arsenic levels were three times that of those considered safe, and probably had much to do with the Harmes’ newly experienced symptoms of fatigue, vomiting and several devastating miscarriages. The lawyer’s advice to quickly vacate the property may have been sound and in the interest of the couple’s health, but the following legal dealings that resulted in a settlement for the couple seemed pretty vague, at best.
The settlement was confidential, which is not uncommon when dealing with companies like Regency Field Services fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Lawyers in the area, like San Antonio oil and gas attorney Mike Hancock, would say that when companies like Regency can avoid publicity, they will. But the Harm’s financial misfortune resulting from the terms of the settlement is confusing and feels more than confidential; the couple wonders if some underhanded dealings occured.
Here are the known facts: the settlement included $46,000 in damages for the couple, and their mortgage to be paid off by Regency Field Services. However, when the couple tried to move back into their home, there was a restraining order against them to keep them off the property—Regency said that the house was now theirs, and had filed a warranty deed with the county. Then, a few months later, the home was demolished, “literally scraped from the earth among the south Texas scrub brush.”
The deed filed in the county apparently contained what looked like their signatures, but the couple reports never having seen or signed the document, and their lawyer wouldn’t tell them the terms of the settlement (it was confidential, he said). Furthermore, the bank didn’t accept the pay-off and the deed was filed with the county somewhat erroneously. But the damage had been done. The Harm’s home is gone, and they have too little money left to hire a new San Antonio oil and gas attorney to litigate the case, even though they’ve contacted the local district attorney and sheriff’s office. No investigation has been initiated.
The Harms “sadly watch oil and gas companies make high-dollar deals with their neighbors,” and occasionally receive offers themselves, only to have the companies back off when the find out about the title confusion with Regency. For now, they are still in limbo while others find vast profits near their land.