Oil pollution trial enters second week

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 12, 2001

An oil field pollution trial enters its second week Tuesday asplaintiffs attempt to show how decades of Chevron activity damagedtheir property.

The defendants maintain that any radiation from their oilexploration and production activities in the Brookhaven Oil Fieldis naturally occurring and not sufficient to cause any damage toproperty owners.

The first week of testimony concluded late Thursday with ahealth physics expert on the witness stand. Following Monday’sVeteran’s Day holiday, the trial will resume Tuesday with theplaintiffs continuing their case.

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Judge Keith Starrett said the trial is following afour-day-a-week schedule.

“That’s customary in a lot of courts,” the judge said.

Starrett said the four-day schedule allows the court to handleother matters and attorneys and jurors can conduct business theycan’t do on the weekends.

The trial was initially expected to last about two weeks.However, there were indications after that the first week that itcould last longer.

Court observers said the trial’s early pace has been slow and attimes contentious as attorneys argued over aspects of thetrial.

Officials said there have been a number of evidentiary questionsthat required rulings outside the jury’s presence. Also, thescientific nature of some of the issues has required laying afoundation, or background questioning, before the testimony couldbe heard.

Sixteen people, including 12 jurors and four alternates, havebeen empaneled for the trial.

Plaintiffs in the case are Leland and Helen Smith, Nathan andMary Carter, Gene C. “Moochie” and Margaret S. Britt and Hal Rayand Doris Case Owens, who own various property in the BrookhavenOil Field west of the city. They are pursuing claims for propertydamage and mental anguish in the trial.

Chevron operated the Brookhaven Oil Field from 1943 to 1990before selling the field to Florabama, which later sold it to COHOResources Inc. Both Florabama and COHO are now bankrupt.

Chevron conducted field clean-up activities in 2000. Contrary toplaintiffs’ claims that the property was ruined as a result of theoil exploration and production activity, the defendants sayproperty in the field continues to be valuable and the real estatemarket in the area is strong.