Quake Lawsuits Shake Up Shale Play Companies

Here’s another earth-shaking complaint stemming from disposal wells in the Fayetteville Shale.

Disposal wells are where natural gas drilling companies like BHP Billiton inject the goop left over from their hydraulic fracturing operations. Between 2010 and 2011, hundreds of earthquakes were felt near disposal wells in the Faulkner County area.

In 2011, the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission found sufficient connection between disposal wells and the quakes to nix any further use of disposal wells within a 1,150 square mile radius of the quakes. Since then, a number of landowners have sued the gas companies alleging damage to their homes.

This particular lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Arkansas, involves two Greenbrier families, the Millers and the Krisells, who claim their homes suffered damages from the largest of the earthquakes, a 4.7 magnitude that shook the town in February 2011.

Emerson Poynter LLP of Little Rock, which has filed suit against gas companies many times in the past, is representing the families.

The defendants are BHP Billiton of Australia and Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City. Chesapeake was the original operator of the wells but sold its assets to BHP for $4.7 billion in January 2011.

Both families’ homes are located about one mile from the epicenter of the 4.7 quake, the suit says. Damage is said to include cracking in concrete, tiles, walls, ceilings, brick facings, crown molding and so forth; foundations have also been unsettled, doors won’t shut and the Millers’ pool won’t consistently hold water.

Emerson Poynter is demanding as-yet unspecified damages. The gas companies haven’t yet responded to the suit.