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Southwestern Energy/Triad Hunter

On October 27, 2022, we and our co-counsel won a unanimous jury verdict awarding more than $70 million on behalf of our client against Westlake Chemical.

Westlake owns and operates the Natrium chemical plant, which sits on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, just across the river from our client’s property in Ohio. For decades, the Natrium plant mined salt from deep underground salt deposits using a technique called solution mining. This involves pumping water deep underground at high pressures to dissolve the salt deposits, and then pumping the saltwater solution back to the surface. This process creates underground caverns where the salt was extracted. The plant’s owners have been solution mining since the 1940s, and Westlake continued these practices when it acquired the plant. In the decades since the Natrium plant began mining, billions of gallons of water have been pumped underground, and millions of tons of salt have been removed.

Solution mining can be risky. The process of dissolving the salt creates poisonous hydrogen sulfide, and the brine caverns it creates can grow great distances in unexpected ways. Over the course of a three-week trial, we presented evidence that Westlake and its predecessors at the plant were warned repeatedly by experts and consultants that its brine caverns were growing outside of Westlake’s property, expanding west under the Ohio River and into neighboring land. Witnesses testified that Westlake didn’t follow this advice and avoided mapping the western boundaries of the caverns. Westlake further did not follow instructions from West Virginia regulators to submit accurate maps and to alert Ohio regulators about the caverns. Westlake employees also admitted that they had pumped millions of gallons of unaccounted for water underground. They intended to continue to solution mine exactly as they had been despite proof that its caverns had grown into Triad’s land where it conducts oil and gas drilling. Finally, witnesses and experts testified that Triad’s drilling practices were harmed by the brine caverns, which collapsed and made Triad’s natural gas production more dangerous and, for some wells, impossible to continue.

After hearing all of the evidence, the jury deliberated for only 4.5 hours before awarding damages to Triad. We are currently pursuing injunctive relief to stop Westlake’s ongoing trespass, and Westlake has said it plans to appeal the verdict in the Ohio appellate courts.