Earthquakes caused by underground fluid disposal have been observed since the 1970's when the U.S. Military caused earthquakes at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado. There have been dozens of researched and published cases of this happening around the country since then, and it is general knowledge in the seismological/geological community. In 2008 a company name Deep Six applied for the first permit of this type of well in the Fayetteville Shale area. This well had already been drilled near the Enola Swarm area, where a swarm of natural earthquakes happened in the early 1980's. Small earthquakes have sporadically happened in the Enola Swarm area since then. Knowing the history of fluid induced earthquakes as well as the seismicity of the area where this well was located, the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission (AOGC) held a meeting to discuss the probability of earthquakes. AOGC Director Larry Bengal and Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS) Geohazard Superviser Scott Ausbrooks testified to the AOGC commissioners that based on the geology of the area, earthquakes would happen with prolonged injection in disposal wells of this type. Dr. Barry Raleigh, the lead scientist from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal study and another famous case in Paradox Valley, CO testified on behalf of Deep Six, the company applying for the permit. Dr. Raleigh is one of the most reputable scientists regarding man-made fluid disposal earthquakes in the country. He stated that in the 1990's, Chevron allowed him and his team to experiment with the Paradox Valley disposal well and they were able to control and therefore limit the amount of earthquakes. He also testified that these earthquakes were not large enough to cause damage and that the earthquakes that would happen from this Deep Six well would be similar, not any larger than a 4.5 on the Richter Scale. He said he had reviewed data from a test injection at the Deep Six well and that the data indicated that this well as well as any others that operated in the area would definitely cause earthquakes. A seismologist from UALR, Dr. Haydar Al-Shukri, testified that Deep Six was providing him with the funding to put a seismic array around the Deep Six well and funding for his department at UALR to study these earthquakes. Dr. Al-Shukri testified that he was happy that the scientific community would be getting valuable data from this study of these earthquakes that would be caused. A summary and the full transcript of this meeting as well as a second meeting that was held to discuss the amount of earthquake insurance that would be required can be accessed with the buttons above. The AOGC permitted the Deep Six well. As part of the permit, Deep Six was required to hold a $25 million insurance policy in case they caused any damage, and they were required to stagger their injection amounts so that the earthquakes could be correlated with the injection patterns. They also permitted multiple other wells in the Fayetteville Shale over the next few months. Immediately earthquakes began to happen around these wells all over the Fayetteville Shale area. These earthquakes were infrequent and very small, going un-noticed by most of the public for about a year until the summer of 2010. Damascus, AR saw a rash of earthquakes, with some being over 3.0 on the Richter Scale. These earthquakes were located near a disposal well. A few weeks later another small swarm occurred near a disposal well outside of Searcy. A few months later, in the fall of 2010, Guy, AR started experiencing a rash of larger earthquakes centered within a few miles from a disposal well operated by Chesapeake Energy. This garnered national attention. In December of 2010 the AOGC announced that they would temporarily stop permitting new disposal wells in the area while they investigated. The investigation would be led by Scott Ausbrooks from AGS and Stephen Horton from the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI). The study would compare disposal data provided by the well operators to the earthquake data from a seismic array in the area. Scott Ausbrooks from the AGS and Larry Bengal from AOGC held a town hall meeting in Guy to tell the public that it was possible that the disposal wells could be causing the earthquakes, but that they were still investigating and did not know. In May of 2011, a building collapsed in Morrilton, killing a two year old little girl and injuring others. Investigators found that there were no earthquakes immediately before the collapse, but it is unknown if the structural integrity of the building was compromised from the hundreds of earthquakes in the months before the collapse. The downtown areas of Conway, Heber Springs, and other cities in and around the Fayetteville Shale area are similar to Morrilton, consisting mostly of very old, multi-story, brick buildings.
It is also unknown how many well casings were cracked or damaged from these earthquakes. These concrete wells casings are what keep the toxic fluid left in the hole from directly entering our shallow underground drinking water supply. State regulators have said that they knew of no way to check these casings to see if any have failed from the earthquakes.
In June of 2011 the AOGC announced that based on the evidence from the AGS & CERI study, AOGC Director Larry Bengal would recommend that the Commission permanently shut down the two wells that were already shut down, as well as two more in the area. This would be at the next regularly scheduled a month later. Mr. Bengal would also recommend a ban on disposal wells in an 1,150 sq mile area in the middle of the Fayetteville Shale. Over a month later, on July 26th the meeting finally took place. That morning, before the meeting, two of the companies operating wells in this area announced that they would not dispute this recommendation in front of the Commission and that they would shut their wells down. Only Deep Six tried to argue that their well did not cause earthquakes. Dr. Haydar Al-Shukri testified on behalf of Deep Six that while the other wells caused the earthquakes, the Deep Six well did not. In April of 2012, Stephen Horton and CERI finally published the conclusive report showing the link between the earthquakes and the disposal wells. The report states, "Scott Ausbrooks partnered in the field work and participated in countless discussions of triggered seismicity and the geology of Arkansas...The state of Arkansas does not wish to publish at this time so Mr. Ausbrooks is not a coauthor." When Dr. Horton was asked why Scott Ausbrooks was not recognized as a co-author of the study he replied, “Scott and I worked together on this project, it is a shame he was not allowed to be co-author. It wasn’t my decision.” Scott Ausbrooks has yet to respond to our question of why he is not recognized. His boss, the Director of AGS Bekki White, is also the daughter of the Chairman of the AOGC, Chad White. Ms. White's previous experience before being appointed director of the AGS was working as a petroleum geologist for her father's oil and gas company. Seven of the nine Arkansas Oil and Gas Commissioner own or are board members for oil and gas companies in the state. Ms. White has also yet to respond to our question as to why Scott Ausbrooks is not recognized in the study and why the state wishes to not publish the report. We have damage to our own home from these earthquakes and have been paying for earthquake insurance. We filed a class action lawsuit against the companies operating the disposal wells that caused the earthquakes. Numerous families have joined our class action lawsuit alleging damage to their property from these earthquakes. Some have quite significant damage to their homes from these earthquakes. If you have damage to your home or property from any of the earthquakes that have occurred within the Fayetteville Shale and the surrounding area, you can contact our attorney here, Scott Poynter of Emerson Poynter LLP.