After a long, busy day you are looking forward to relaxing: watching some television, spending quality time with your family, or perhaps catching up on sleep. All you want to do is enjoy the peace and quiet of your home, when all of a sudden, your neighbor violently disrupts your peace and quiet.
This neighbor’s dog is not barking, his music isn’t too loud… This is not your typical noise complaint, but then again this is no run-of-the-mill neighbor. A typical “neighbor” would not be operating industrial machinery, shining lights from towers into your home, handling toxic chemicals, causing vibrations throughout your house that make you think an earthquake has hit, and overall doing things that are dangerous to you and your family. To make matters worse, this is going on around the clock, seven days a week, for thirty days or more. One would think this is illegal and just plain wrong! Unfortunately, this racket next door is an oil and gas company drilling an oil or gas well, and in Texas and many other states, the oil and gas companies are within their rights to drill in close proximity to homes.
This is not to say that you as a homeowner do not have the right to take some legal action. While you do, that means taking on the oil and gas companies by filing a lawsuit. Does that mean you should give up? No, you should ask, “What are my rights?”
In Texas you have the right to sue under the legal theory of private nuisance. Without using too much legalese, a nuisance claim simply means you have the right, as a homeowner or house occupant, to sue any person or business (including oil and gas companies) that interferes with the peaceful enjoyment of your home. If a court or jury agrees with you, you may be paid for any loss in the value to your home, any repairs needed on your home, and for all emotional harm you have suffered as result of the disturbance to your enjoyment of your home.
To understand all of this, it is important to state a basic legal principle in Texas: oil and gas companies have a constitutional right to drill for oil and gas, wherever it is found. However, they just cannot do it in a manner that harms the neighbors’ rights to peacefully enjoy their homes. Also, oil and gas companies (if drilling within a city limit) usually have to obtain a permit from the city government to drill. That sounds like a good thing and you might think it will prevent oil and gas companies from drilling next to your home – or at the very least if they do, it will be in a safe and quiet manner. However, having a city permit does not guarantee a thing. A city permit does not protect the homeowner from the dangerous activity, as the city permit only requires the oil and gas companies to meet minimum standards, which do not protect the homeowner from the harm that is sure to follow.
We have filed and successfully prosecuted these types of lawsuits against oil and gas companies. In these cases we look at what the oil and gas companies did (versus what they should have done) to protect homeowners from this dangerous activity and to respect a homeowner’s’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their home. We have also forced the oil and gas companies to pay for the damages caused by their dangerous activity.
Without a doubt, as oil and gas companies continue their pursuit for more natural resources, they will find themselves ever closer to residential areas and interfering with the peaceful enjoyment of a person’s home. Homeowners just have to be ready, willing and able to assert their rights as well.