Lawsuit alleges contamination from drilling waste


LITTLE ROCK — Three gas drilling companies are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by a group of Arkansas residents who allege that drilling waste injected into disposal wells has contaminated the ground under their property.

Nine families and individuals who live in Faulkner and Independence counties filed an amended complaint Friday in the lawsuit originally filed in August in U.S. District Court at Little Rock. The defendants are Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co., Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy and Fort Worth, Texas-based XTO Energy.

The complaint concerns waste fluids produced by the process known as fracking, in which water, sand and various chemicals are injected into a well at high pressure to create fractures in the rock and release natural gas. In recent years, natural gas drilling has boomed in the Fayetteville Shale play in Central and northern Arkansas.

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants have been injecting waste fluids from the fracking process into disposal wells and that “once injected into these disposal wells, the oilfield waste fluid flows out horizontally and is then permanently and forever deposited into the rock formation.”

The defendants have lease agreements with some of the plaintiffs for gas drilling rights. The leases “do not permit or contemplate the permanent disposition of oilfield waste upon the property of the plaintiffs,” and the gas companies never informed the plaintiffs of their plans to inject oilfield waste onto their property, the suit alleges.

The suit lists numerous harmful effects the plaintiffs allege have occurred on their land because of the drilling waste. They are seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff, plus an order requiring the defendants’ disposal wells to be monitored for migration of waste fluids.

The plaintiffs also claim they are entitled to treble damages — triple the amount — because the defendants have violated federal racketeering laws. They are seeking class-action certification for the lawsuit so other landowners similarly affected can receive damages as well.

Southwestern Energy Co. said in a response to the original version of the suit that the plaintiffs had not backed up their claims with facts.

“Beyond blanket statements such as fracking fluid ‘has been known to travel’ up to 2 miles, plaintiffs plead no facts connecting Southwestern’s actions with their supposed damages (which also lack any specificity). Further, plaintiffs willfully ignore the publicly recorded mineral leases that expressly allow injection of fracking fluids below their lands. But one thing is clear — the plaintiffs each want millions of dollars,” Southwestern said in its filing.