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While the traditional image of an oil well is a structure that produces spouts of oil gushing from underground, most wells in the United States today use hydraulic fracturing to draw oil through rock formations, said plaintiff’s counsel William C. Slusser. “The gusher days are over,” he said. In the hydraulic fracturing process, a fluid is injected at high pressure into a well to fracture the rock, creating a fissure from which oil can be pumped to the surface. A proppant, such as sand, is also injected into the fissure. The fracturing fluid, which is in a gel form, turns into a liquid and flows back out, but the proppant is left in the hole to keep the crack open, said Slusser. Hydraulic fracturing is a $4 billion-a-year industry. In 1994, Houston-based BJ Services Co., one of the leading companies providing hydraulic fracturing services, developed a method using a different polymer in the fracturing fluid. This method, using a polymer processed from the guar plant, enhanced well production significantly, said Slusser. BJ Services applied for a patent for this method in 1997; the patent was issued in January 2000. Two months later, BJ Services filed a patent infringement action against another leading hydraulic services company, Halliburton Energy Services Co. The plaintiff contended that Halliburton had acquired the same polymer used by BJ Services, had it replicated, then began using the method commercially in September 1999, said plaintiff’s attorney Marc L. Delflache of Fulbright & Jaworski, which helped prepare the plaintiff’s case. “Halliburton had to come up with a competing system or lose customers,” said Delflache. Instead, the plaintiff charged, Halliburton copied the method used by BJ Services. The plaintiff relied heavily on computer animation and other demonstratives to teach the science of hydraulic fracturing, Slusser said. The plaintiff also illustrated how polymer chains link together and why this particular polymer was more effective in hydraulic fracturing wells, he said. Halliburton denied any patent infringement, but on April 12 a federal jury in Houston found BJ Services’ valid patent was infringed; it awarded the plaintiff $98.1 million. “We’re obviously disappointed,” said defense counsel Philip S. Beck, noting, however, that “before trial, they were claiming damages of $420 million.” Halliburton will appeal, he added. Plaintiff’s attorney: William C. Slusser, Slusser & Frost, Houston. Defense attorney: Philip S. Beck, Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott.

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