Two Arkansas couples have filed suit against Southwestern Energy claiming the company’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations have contaminated drinking water sources. The lawsuits are seeking class action status on behalf of potentially hundreds of people living within 3 miles of a Southwestern Energy wellhead whose well water may have been tainted by fracking.
Fracking involves blasting a mix of water, chemicals, and sand into shale rock formations to shake loose natural gas deposits. As fracking has become more widespread in recent years, concerns about its possible environmental impacts have grown as well.
In addition to Southwestern Energy, both Arkansas lawsuits name XTO Energy (a subsidiary of Exxon Mobile Corp.) Chesapeake Energy Corp. and BHP Billiton as defendants. Both complaints allege that the plaintiffsâ€™ property values have diminished as a result of natural-gas drilling.
The first lawsuit was filed by James and Mindy Tucker of Quitman. â€œAfter the defendants began operating gas wells in the areas surrounding their property, the plaintiffs noticed that their water began to smell like â€˜cotton poison,â€™â€ the lawsuit claims. While Southwestern Energy performed tests on the well water several times and declared it safe, the plaintiffs contend that an outside testing firm found â€œa flammable and poisonous chemical which is a known component of fracking fluidâ€ in the water.
In their lawsuit, Phillip and Peggy Berry, also of Quitman, allege that in January a water well on an adjacent property was spewing large quantities of methane gas and hydrogen sulfide into the air. A lawyer representing the couple told local media outlets that at one point, the methane coming from the water well “ended up putting a flare in the person’s backyard.” Methane and hydrogen sulfide gases also caused severe contamination of ponds on the property, the suit alleges.
State regulators investigating the incident determined the contamination was the result of a natural-gas pocket that escaped after the water table fell below it. While Southwestern Energy helped to seal the gas leak, the state did not find company liable for the contamination.
These are just the latest lawsuits filed by Arkansas residents that allege problems caused by natural gas drilling, particularly fracking. Earlier this week, a resident of Faulkner County filed a class action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars for damages from earthquakes allegedly associated with injection wells used to store fracking wastewater. In another action, several Arkansas residents have joined with environmental groups in a lawsuit against the federal government to stop natural gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest and under Greers Ferry Lake.