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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Families Blame Fracking for Destructive Quakes

LITTLE ROCK (CN) - Fracking by Chesapeake oil and Billiton Petroleum caused "thousands of earthquakes" that damaged homes in central Arkansas, two families claim in Federal Court.

Johnny and Patsy Miller and Christopher and Rebecca Krisell sued Chesapeake Operating and BHP Billiton Petroleum, claiming their fracking "caused thousands of earthquakes in mini-clusters and swarms in central Arkansas in 2010 and 2011," including Arkansas' largest earthquake in the past 35 years.

Both families live in Greenbrier, about 40 miles north of Little Rock.

They claim their homes and property were damaged as a "direct and proximate consequence of defendants' oil and gas operations in Arkansas, and more specifically, their disposal of the wastewater generated during the process of extracting natural gas from the Fayetteville Shale by injecting it back into the earth in disposal wells."

This is one of dozens of lawsuits filed across the country challenging the supposed benefits of fracking. Governments have tried to prohibit it in the Delaware Valley watershed, afraid the cracking of underground rock formations could contaminate millions of people's drinking water with petroleum and the waste injections.

In Pennsylvania, a complaisant Legislature truckled to the oil industry and passed a law effectively prohibiting health workers from criticizing the chemicals injected by fracking, claiming to do so would reveal trade secrets.

A doctor then sued the state on constitutional grounds, saying there is no secret at all involved in injection of waste products by fracking, and that the law was a brazen attempt to muzzle his efforts to protect his patients.

The Millers and Krissells say in their complaint: "The process of extracting natural gas from the Fayetteville Shale involves hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking.' This process requires drillers to inject pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals to create fractures deep into the ground.

"The fracking process results in wastewater that has to be disposed of, primarily because it is contaminated with salt and other minerals.

"Although some of this wastewater is recycled and reused, for the most part, it is disposed of by injecting it back into the ground into other wells commonly referred to as 'wastewater disposal injection wells,' 'disposal wells,' or 'injection wells.'"

Chesapeake owned and operated injection wells throughout Faulkner County, near Greenbrier, the families say.

The complaint claims that "scientists have known for half a century that disposal well operations will cause earthquakes. In fact, since the late 1960s scientists studying whether earthquakes and seismic activities can be induced by certain human actions have accepted that induced seismic activity can and does occur."

A graph prepared by the Arkansas Geological Survey, included in the complaint, shows a sudden and substantial increase in Arkansas earthquakes, from an average 1 every 3 years from 1600 to 1969, to 140 in the 1970s and 546 in the 1980s.

"In what the USGS tagged as the 'Arkansas Earthquake Swarm of October

2010,' hundreds of earthquakes hit central Arkansas in October of 2010 alone," the complaint states.

"Some of the earthquakes were of substantial magnitude. For example, earthquakes of 4.0 and 3.8 in magnitude were centered in the Guy/Greenbrier area on October 11th and October 15th. These two big earthquakes were felt widely across Arkansas.

"In response to this swarm of earthquakes in Arkansas, hundreds occurring between September 2010 and December of 2010, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission Staff, on December 1, 2010, requested that the Commission establish an immediate moratorium on any new or additional disposal wells that were not currently active in certain parts of Faulkner, Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne, and White Counties."

The Millers and Krisells claim the quakes caused "physical damage to their home, loss in the fair market value of their real estate due to earthquakes caused by defendants' activities, and emotional distress."

Both families say their homes suffered "cracking or separations in tiles, walls, ceilings, brick facings, hardwood floors, doors that won't properly shut, separation of door frames, separation of drywall from the ceiling that has caused water damage, and the un-leveling of foundations."

Both say they "have also been damaged by defendants disposal well operations and resulting earthquakes in that they have suffered emotional distress and increased anxiety and worry of additional and possibly more severe earthquakes that could further damage their property or injure themselves or a family member in their home."

They seek punitive damages for public and private nuisance, absolute liability, trespass, negligence, deceptive trade, outrage and emotional distress.

They are represented by Corey D. McGaha with Emerson Poynter.

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