Arkansas lawsuits test fracking link to quakes
By Mica Rosenberg, ReutersGREENBRIER, Arkansas--Tony Davis, a 54-year-old construction worker in central Arkansas, said he welcomed the boom in natural gas drilling that brought jobs and new businesses to his hometown starting about a decade ago. But that was before the earth shook.
August 28, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
In 2010 and 2011, the quiet farming town of Greenbrier, Arkansas, was rattled by a swarm of more than 1,000 minor earthquakes. The biggest, with a magnitude of 4.7, had its epicenter less than 1,500 feet (450 meters) from Davis's front porch. “This should not be happening in Greenbrier,” Davis recalls thinking. He said the shaking damaged the support beams under an addition to his home.
Then came another surprise: University of Memphis and Arkansas Geological Survey scientists said the quakes were likely triggered by the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — into deep, underground wells. That finding prompted regulators from the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to order several wells in the area shut down, and the earthquakes soon subsided.
It also prompted Davis and more than a dozen of his neighbors to file five lawsuits in federal court against Chesapeake Operating Inc, as the owner in 2010 of two injection wells near Davis' home, and BHP Billiton, which purchased Chesapeake's shale gas assets in 2011.
Another company, Clarita Operating LLC, owned a third well that was shut down, but the company went bankrupt and was dropped from the litigation in 2011.
Chesapeake and BHP both declined to comment, citing policies not to discuss ongoing litigation. In court documents they denied they were responsible for the quakes and for any damage the quakes may have caused.
The litigation marks the first legal effort to link earthquakes to wastewater injection wells, according to a search of the Westlaw database and interviews with legal experts, and the first attempt to win compensation from drilling companies for quake damage. If any of the earthquake cases make it to a jury and the plaintiffs prevail, the outcome could spark additional litigation, since wastewater injection wells are used not only in fracking, but in other kinds of oil and gas drilling and geothermal energy production.