LITTLE ROCK — Seven Arkansas residents filed three lawsuits Tuesday seeking class-action status against various natural-gas companies alleging, among other things, that hydraulic fracturing in the Fayetteville Shale has diminished property values.
In two of the lawsuits - filed by the Memphis law firm Deal, Cooper and Holton in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - James and Mindy Tucker and Phillip and Peggy Berry, all of Quitman, are seeking class-action status for anyone living within three miles of a wellhead.
The suits allege that the plaintiffs’ property values have diminished as a result of natural-gas drilling.
Southwestern Energy Corp.; XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobile Corp.; Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. and BHP Billiton are named as defendants in the complaints.
Both filings state that chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing contaminates the “soil, groundwater, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, springs, creeks, drinking water wells, air and atmosphere.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process of extracting natural gas from underground shale rock formations by pumping millions of gallons of fluid into a well, breaking apart the rock and allowing the gas to flow freely.
The Tuckers allege that their well water has been contaminated.
“After the defendants began operating gas wells in the areas surrounding their property, the plaintiffs noticed that their water began to smell like ‘cotton poison,’” the lawsuit claims.
The suit says that Houston-based Southwestern Energy conducted four tests on the well water and deemed it safe.
However, the suit claims that an outside testing firm found “a flammable and poisonous chemical which is a known component of fracking fluid” in the water.
A Southwestern Energy spokesman did not return a call for comment.
For an example of contamination in the Berrys’ complaint, they allege that in January a water well on an adjacent property was spewing large quantities of methane gas and hydrogen sulfide into the air.
Ponds on the property also were severely contaminated with methane and hydrogen sulfide gases, the suit alleges.
However, Shane Khoury, deputy director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, said an investigation determined that the spewing methane was likely caused by a natural-gas pocket that escaped after the water table fell below it. Southwestern Energy helped contain the leak but was not responsible for it, Khoury said.
The third suit - by Peggy Ginardi, along with Ike and Constance Lester, all of Faulkner County - was filed against BHP, Chesapeake, Houston-based Kinder Morgan Treating and Frontier Gas Services of Tulsa. The plaintiffs are also represented by Deal, Cooper and Holton.
BHP, the world’s largest mining company, purchased all of Chesapeake’s Fayetteville Shale assets in a deal that closed March 31 for $4.75 billion.
That suit was filed against the defendants “for the creation of a noxious and harmful nuisance; contamination; trespass and diminution of property values,” in relation to compressor stations.
The stations are placed throughout the Fayetteville Shale along natural-gas pipelines and accumulate, treat and recompress the gas to ensure that it continues to flow along the pipeline.
“The compression devices are extremely loud and produce injurious levels of noise,” says the lawsuit filed by Deal, Cooper and Holton. “The entire process ... constitutes an industrial development, which is incompatible with residential living.”
The suit also alleges that the compressor stations contaminate the air, soil and water with harmful, carcinogenic and poisonous gases and chemicals.
The complaint is seeking class status for anyone who lives with one mile of a compressor station. It seeks a court order that would require the natural-gas companies to monitor the air, soil, water and noise.
BHP, Chesapeake, Kinder Morgan, XTO and Frontier Gas Services could not be reached for comment.