In the state of Arkansas, several recently filed court cases have asserted claims arising from the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Specifically, five different cases were filed in late May 2011, based on several different legal theories, but all seeking to penalize or enjoin the practice of hydraulic fracturing throughout Arkansas. Additionally, the plaintiffs in each of these cases are seeking to have their case certified for class action status.
The first two of these cases, James Tucker and Mindy Tucker v. Southwestern Energy Company, XTO Energy, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and BHP Billiton (Fayetteville), LLC, (USDC ED Arkansas Case No. 1:11-cv-00044) and Phillip Berry and Peggy Berry v. Southwestern Energy Company, XTO Energy, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and BHP Billiton (Fayetteville), LLC (USDC ED Arkansas Case No. 1:11-cv-00045), filed May 17 and 18, 2011, are virtually identical causes of action, each contending that independent testing of the plaintiff’s drinking water has revealed a high quantity of alpha methylstyrene, a flammable and poisonous chemical that is a known component of hydraulic fracturing fluid. Each of these suits asks for establishment of a fund for monitoring environmental contamination, a medical monitoring fund, $1 million in compensatory damages, and $5 million in punitive damages.
In Peggy Ginardi, Ike Lester and Constance Lester v. Frontier Gas Services, LLC, Kinder Morgan Treating, LP, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and BHP Billiton Petroleum (Fayetteville), LLC (USDC ED Arkansas Case No. 4:11-cv-00420), Faulkner County residents, Peggy Ginardi and Ike and Constance Lester, have sued the operators of compressor stations located along natural gas transmission lines, alleging that the stations emit large quantities of noxious gases, in addition to producing noise damaging the plaintiff’s hearing. According to their complaint, filed May 17, 2011, these compressor stations are being used in the transmission of natural gas collected through the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Plaintiffs in this case are also seeking establishment of a fund for monitoring environmental contamination, a medical monitoring fund, $1 million in compensatory damages, and $5 million in punitive damages.
Sam and April Lane – also Faulkner County residents – filed suit on May 20, 2011, Sam and April Lane, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. BHP Billiton Petroleum (Arkansas), Inc., BHP Billiton Petroleum (Fayetteville), LLC, Chesapeake Operating, Inc., and Clarita Operating, LLC (USDC ED Arkansas Case No. 4:11-cv-00477), in Faulkner County, Arkansas, asserting causes of action in strict liability for engaging in an ultra-hazardous activity and for nuisance, trespass, and negligence. The Lanes contend that the hydraulic fracturing process of injecting pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep into the earth to create fractures in the shale deposit has created an unprecedented increase in seismic activity. These man-made earthquakes allegedly have caused damage to their homes and made them fear for their safety. Further, plaintiffs allege that property values have been harmed and the cost of earthquake insurance in central Arkansas has skyrocketed. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, plaintiffs seek to enjoin operation of injection wells in Arkansas.
Finally, in a case filed on May 19, 2011, several conservation, environmental, and recreational nonprofit organizations have filed suit against the federal government, seeking to enjoin the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies from allowing hydraulic fracturing operations in the Ozark National Forest in Washington County, Arkansas, and drilling under Greers Ferry Lake in Cleburne County. Plaintiffs allege the government has failed to comply with federal mineral leasing laws, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the regulations issued under them. (Ouachita Watch League, Newton County Wildlife Association, Shawn Porter, G. Thomas McKinney, David Reagan, Susan Gateley, Robert B. Leflar, Sarah May Leflar, ind. and as guardians of Sarah Helen Leflar, a minor, Kimberly Ison, John Ison, Billy Lindsey, Carol Lindsey, James Mitchell, Ruth Mitchell and John Lawrence Poff v. Judith L. Henry, Forest Supervisor, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District, Department of the Army, and Department of Defense, USDC ED Arkansas Case No. 4:11-cv-00425).
McGuireWoods’ Unconventional and Conventional Natural Gas and Energy Litigation Group focuses on all aspects of natural gas development and litigation.