Friday, October 5, 2012

Lawsuit challenges frackers' waste disposal practices in Arkansas

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM

WHERE DOES IT GO?: Lawsuit includes diagram of waste injection well.
  • WHERE DOES IT GO?: Lawsuit includes diagram of waste injection well.
An amended class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Little rock against Southwestern Energy, XTO and Chesapeake Energy over the wells they've drilled to dispose of waste material by injecting it underground.

The suit is brought on behalf of anyone living within three miles of the injection wells. The named plaintiffs live a miles or less from injection wells in Faulkner, Conway and Independence County.

The waste is a byproduct of "fracking," the injecting of large amounts of fluid underground at high pressure to release gas trapped in what is known as the Fayetteville Shale. The water contains a number of toxic chemicals, the lawsuit asserts. It's mostly recaptured after drilling and trucked to waste disposal sites, where it's eventually injected underground for permanent disposal in underground rock formations.

The lawsuit contends the waste spreads — as much as several miles — in an underground "reservoir" that lies under land of people who have not been paid any consideration for waste that has migrated under their property. Since it can never be removed, the lawsuit calls this a "permanent trespass." Some of the plaintiffs have been paid to lease mineral rights on their property and the income has been reduced by waste disposal costs. But, the lawsuit said, the leases didn't permit waste disposal on their property and the defendants never told the plaintiffs that was a possibility. The suit says the defendants have injected far more waste into permitted injection wells than the reservoirs below them can hold, thus insuring spread of the waste over a wider territory.

The suit alleges that gas drillers paid landowners in other states for waste disposal, but took advantage of the "naivete" of Arkansas residents to avoid payments here. In newspaper and journal articles, a Southwestern Energy official bragged about leasing land before rural Arkansans could figure out what was happening, the suit said.

...the idea was to use out of state 'land men' with no connections in the state of Arkansas to secure mineral leases from unsophisticated land owners for a fraction of what was being paid in other states. By using 'foreign' land men, there was little risk that they might be inclined to be forthright about the mineral leases and its attendant consequences for the land owners.

The suit said the land men made sure to avoid telling land owners that injection wells would take waste from all over Arkansas, not just from wells on their land. The suit alleges fraudulent conduct, along with damage to property rights, in what they allege was a "civil conspiracy."

The defendants have injected billions of gallons of oilfield waste underneath the lands of the named plaintiffs and all others similarly situated in the state of Arkansas, in an concerted and orchestrated effort to maximize the defendants profits at the expense of the landowners upon whose property this waste matter is being dumped.

Potential damages are enormous ($17 million in actual and punitive damages for each of the plaintiffs named so far) and the lawsuit seeks treble damages under the federal anti-conspiracy statute.

Lawyers from Tennessee and Texas, Timothy Holton of Memphis and Michael McGartland of Fort Worth, filed the amended lawsuit. It's distinct from claims Holton made in earlier suits, which alleged water contamination.

The gas companies undoubtedly will issue general denials and file motions to dismiss. Shale cheerleaders such as Sen. Jason Rapert and the gas company toadies in county judge offices and elsewhere in the shale probably will bemoan the slaying of the goose laying the golden eggs — and billions of gallons of permanent toxic waste — on Arkansas people.

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