Arkansas homeowners settle fracking lawsuit by Mica Rosenberg, Reuters, August 28, 2013, MSN
Five Arkansas residents who sued two oil companies claiming wastewater disposal wells from fracking caused earthquakes that damaged their homes settled with the companies for an undisclosed sum on Wednesday, according to U.S. court documents and the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Several similar suits against the two companies, Chesapeake Energy’s operating subsidiary and BHP Billiton , remain active in federal court in eastern Arkansas, though those may also be settled, the lawyers said. The residents claimed a swarm of earthquakes that hit central Arkansas in 2010 and 2011 was triggered by the injection of wastewater into deep wells, damaging their homes. The wastewater is produced by natural gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which deploys a highly pressurized mix of water and chemicals to break apart shale rock to release oil and natural gas. … Scientists found disposal wells in Greenbrier, Ark., likely touched off more than 1,000 quakes in 2010 and 2011, prompting the group of homeowners to sue. They were seeking unspecified compensation to cover their repairs. Corey McGaha of law firm Emerson Poynter, which represents the plaintiffs, confirmed that the parties had settled one lawsuit and that it was being dropped. He said the terms of the agreement were confidential. Jarl Strong, a spokesman for defendant BHP Billiton, declined to comment, as did Chesapeake spokesman Jim Gipson. [Emphasis added]
The lawsuits are among the first in the United States that sought to link earthquakes to wastewater wells, and the first attempt to win compensation from drilling companies for quake damage. Plaintiffs’ lawyers in Arkansas said they still were planning to file lawsuits on behalf of 20 other residents in state court. … Since 2009, some 40 civil lawsuits related to the fracking process have been filed in eight states, claiming harm ranging from groundwater contamination to air pollution to excessive noise. So far none has gone to trial and about half have been dismissed or settled. Suits are often settled with court orders to not discuss monetary awards or details of the case.
Frackers Sued for Causing Earthquakes, Five federal lawsuits mark the first attempt to link drilling and quakes by Lindsay Abrams, Salon, August 27, 2013, Alternet
It’s become something of a pattern: A quiet town with no history of fault line activity signs a contract with natural gas drillers. Suddenly, it’s beset by minor earthquakes. In Youngstown, Ohio, a recent study linked a spate of over 100 earthquakes to the process used to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In Greenbrier, Arkansas, there weren’t hundreds of small earthquakes, but thousands. A study done in the region also linked their occurence to the arrival in town of wastewater disposal wells. As soon as the Arkansas Oil and Gas commission shut down the wells, the quakes stopped. The residents are suing. According to Reuters, over a dozen residents of Greenbrier have filed five federal lawsuits against the drillers, marking the first legal attempt to link earthquakes to wastewater wells: The first of the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Arkansas, is scheduled to go to trial before Judge J. Leon Holmes next March, though the parties have been engaged in settlement talks, according to the court docket. … Other civil lawsuits have been raised against natural gas companies in the U.S. — about 40 since 2009 — but most of those focused on the health and environmental consequences, and none have made it to trial. And if these new suits succeed, Reuters points out, they won’t just target fracking, as wastewater injection wells are used in other types of drilling as well.
The U.S. Geological Survey suspects only a small number of the nation’s 30,000 injection wells of causing earthquakes, and position of the companies being sued seems to be that 1) they couldn’t have predicted the quakes, 2) once they found out about the connection, they took the necessary action to stop them from occurring in the future, 3) in any case, the drilling brought billions of investment dollars into Arkansas and boosted the state’s natural gas production. “It’s something that happened, we addressed it and developed some rules to keep it from happening again and everyone has moved on,” Lawrence Bengal, the director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, told Reuters. In other words, sometimes consequences just can’t be avoided. [Emphasis added]
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