Oklahoma Landowner Awarded Nearly $200,000

Thursday, November 29th 2007, 8:47 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A federal jury in Tulsa awarded nearly $200,000 to a landowner in Osage County who alleged three local oil and gas companies damaged his property. Don Quarles sued Spess Oil Co., the Little River Energy Co. and the Yarhola Production Co.

The jury on Wednesday ordered Spess to pay $100,000 in actual damages and $67,500 in punitive damages to Quarles. Jurors found that Spess acted in reckless disregard toward the rights of others, which prompted the punitive damages phase of the trial against the Cleveland, Okla., company.

The jury ordered that Little River Energy Co. and Yarhola Production Co. each pay $15,000 in damages. The panel did not find that Little River or Yarhola showed reckless disregard toward the rights of others, so the two Drumright companies were not subjected to a punitive damages phase.

Quarles' attorney Gentner Drummond said after the verdict, it was a ``bellwether day'' for Osage County ranchers. Drummond said this case has established that Osage County landowners can successfully pursue any similar claims in court instead of relying on the arbitration process.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2000, blamed eight oil companies and as many as 1,000 unidentified producers for oil wastes and other pollutants that allegedly have migrated into the Arkansas River, Skiatook Lake, Keystone Lake, Birch Lake, groundwater, surface water and Osage County ranch land.

The plaintiffs initially sought a class-action status for the suit, but Drummond said that request was withdrawn after it became apparent a judge was unlikely to grant it.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell granted the summary judgment motions of several of the original defendants, leaving only Spess, Little River and Yarhola as the defendants.

The 2001 version of the lawsuit sought about $100 million in damages. However, the various pretrial developments meant the financial stakes were a lot lower than that during the Tulsa trial, which began Nov. 19.

Attorney Lee Levinson, representing Spess, said he believes that his client followed all the appropriate regulations and that the average juror does not understand the complexities of the oil and gas production business.

Attorney Rick Westcott, representing Little River Energy Co. and Yarhola Production Co., said the two Drumright companies also believe they have done nothing wrong.