Residents of thirteen households have filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court alleging that natural gas waste fluid injection wells caused the "swarms" of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that damaged their homes.
The plaintiffs allege that activity by Chesapeake Operating, Inc. and BHP Billiton Petroleum LLC. Billiton Petroleum is a party to the case because it purchased the wastewater wells in question from Chesapeake.
According to the complaint, "an unprecedented increase in seismic activity" near the injection wells "… were a direct and proximate consequence of [the] Defendants’ … disposal of the wastewater generated during the process of extracting natural gas … [and] injecting it back into the earth in disposal wells."
All 13 county plaintiffs have homes in Greenbrier that they claim sustained damage in the form of cracked or unsettled foundations and/or cracked brick and mortar, doorframes bent out of plumb and molding pulled away from walls.
A 14th plaintiff claiming similar damages has a home in Perryville, Pulaski County.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants operated wells "without adequate precautions to prevent earthquakes" which they knew posed "a substantial risk of seismic activity and problems," creating both a public and private nuisance.
The complaint also asks the court to recognize injection wells as the type of "ultra-hazardous activity" for which the operators may be found liable for damages regardless of whether they actually knew of the hazard or if the existence of the hazard was even knowable.
The complaint also seeks relief for trespass (through causing vibrations or concussions to enter the plaintiffs’ property), deceptive trade practices and outrage (a legal cause of action relating to allegations that "extreme and outrageous" conduct cause emotional distress).
The suit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.
The complaint cites data and opinion from the University of Memphis Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) and the Arkansas Geologic Survey to argue that "the sudden and substantial uptick in seismic activity was induced by the disposal injection wells."
This period of seismic activity includes earthquakes of 4.0 and 3.8 Richter magnitude on Oct. 11 and 15, 2010, respectively, near the Guy/Greenbrier area that prompted the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to issue a halt on new or additional disposal wells, but existing well operation was allowed to continue.
After the 4.7-magnitude earthquake of Feb. 28, 2011 that was centered near Greenbrier and rattled Conway homes as well, the oil and gas commission met to discuss ordering a halt to operating injection wells in the area, which Chesapeake and BHP did voluntarily, before a moratorium on all injection wells was issued.
There’s been no further injection well activity in Faulkner County since.
These plaintiffs’ complaints are similar to those filed on behalf of about a dozen other Greenbrier residents in Federal Court, U.S. Eastern District of Arkansas, seeking damages in excess of $75,000 resulting from the same earthquake activity.
$75,000 is the cutoff for Federal Court jurisdiction based on the amount of money in question.
The Little Rock law firm Emerson Poynter LLP filed both the federal and state suits.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)