Gardendale Residents Take on Oil Company in Court

Gardendale Residents Take on Oil Company in Court

Two Gardendale residents and Berry Petroleum face off in court hearing
Odessa -- A huge showing of support on Tuesday as another heated hearing takes place involving two long-time Gardendale residents and Berry Petroleum.

Several more hearings are expected before a trial begins, and it appears that both sides are preparing for a hard fought battle. It's a fight that started three years ago, but it seems as though the real battle is just getting started.

The plaintiffs are Shane Leverett and Paul Wood. The defendant is Berry Petroleum, who would not comment on camera. But the plaintiff's attorney, who didn't shy away, said he feels the impact of this case will reach far beyond this tiny community.

"This is a historic case in that it's going to test what Texas law does to protect a surface owner when someone is drilling a large multiple of wells on his property," said attorney Steve Hershberger.

The hearing is one of several taking place in Ector County District Court. This one is focusing on what Berry Petroleum feels should be turned over, including scientific testing and lab analysis. "There was a claim that some documents had not been produced, and our position was that they had been produced," said Hershberger.

Berry also asked the plaintiffs for their personal income tax returns, which Hershberger said isn't relevant to the case. "We're claiming that the case is about the damage to the land...that the damages that come from the over use of the land by Berry Petroleum," he said.

Relevant or not, Judge Whalen requested those personal tax returns be handed over, though the lawyers were ordered to keep it confidential.

The judge also ordered the plaintiffs to turn over flight records after a plane allegedly flew over an airfield getting dangerously close to a frac operation.

For those in Gardendale, it all comes down to compensation. Hershberger says they're seeking $15 million.

"Berry, to keep the lease active, has to drill 150 wells on 10 sections," said Hershberger. "That means there's going to be a well per 20 acres."

He thinks this would limit the use of his client's property. It's something Gardendale resident Tim Herrington can also relate to.

"There are two stakes on our place and we have animals, and when they come and take three to six acres of land away from us, where are our animals going to graze?" questioned Herrington.

In the end, both sides will continue fight for what they feel is right. Although the future is uncertain, Hershberger seems to think one thing is clear. "There's a lot at stake here. Each side has valuable interest and so forth, so I think the emotion is probably going to increase. It's a natural process," he said.

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