Starrh v. Aera


02/21/13 – 03/08/13


This trial was conducted in two phases

Both the trials in this litigation have been covered by cvn.

Bakersfield farmer Fred Starrh sued Aera Energy, a joint venture of Exxon Mobil and Shell, in 2001 for trespass, alleging the oil company knowingly contaminated his farm's groundwater supply by pouring billions of barrels of waste water extracted from the nearby Belridge Fields oil production site into unlined percolation pits. Starrh proposed a plan to restore the aquifer to its original condition, which would have cost over $2 billion, but a jury in Kern County Superior Court awarded only $7 million in damages.

On appeal, Starrh's lawyers argued that the damages should potentially include money saved by Aera by not properly disposing the waste water. The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno ordered a new trial on damages, noting that even if Aera had been forced to pay $1 per barrel instead of 1.5 cents per barrel to dispose of the waste water, Aera would still have had over $1 billion in profits. Aera and several industry associations unsuccessfully petitioned the California Supreme Court to allow the original $7 million award to stand.

After retrial, the jury found that 96,096,512 barrels of water had crossed from Aera ponds onto the plaintiff's property, and that Aera obtained a benefit from this method of waste water disposal worth $8,559,622.

The plaintiff was represented by attorney Ralph Wegis. The defendant in this case, Aera Energy LLC was represented by attorneys Steve Kristovich and Patrick Osborn.


Jury found for the Defense.


Recording Disclaimer: This proceeding was recorded in full.

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