Chesapeake Operating Inc. and Clarita Operating LLC both said before a hearing Friday in Little Rock by the state Oil and Gas Commission that they will comply with an emergency request to stop injections of used natural-gas drilling fluid in the two wells in Faulkner County.
The drillers made the announcement in a pre-meeting notice. Still, the commission voted 8-0 to approve an emergency order ceasing operations at that the two injection wells. Commission staff suspects that the wells may be linked to an outbreak of hundreds of small earthquakes in the Faulkner County area.
Commission Director Lawrence Bengal said both companies agreed ahead of the hearing to to cease operations until the next commission meeting, which is scheduled for March 29. He said evidence will be presented at that hearing from the staff of the commission, who believe there is a possible correlation, and the drilling companies, who argue no correlation exists.
Bengal said after the meeting that he requested the emergency order because data received from the drilling companies suggested there might be a link between injection operations and seismic activity.
"We may never be able to make a definitive determination, but the indications are it's a possibility," he said. "So we felt it prudent to ask these wells to shut down to prevent the potential for future earthquakes."
It will take an undetermined amount of time for the ground in the area to equalize its pressure, Bengal said. That means there could still be seismic activity after the injections operations halted and it wouldn't necessarily disprove the correlation, he said. The drilling companies were scheduled to cease work at the two sites on Friday morning.
In agreeing to do so, the companies did not admit any culpability.
There was no testimony at the short hearing. Several opponents of natural gas drilling attended the meeting, including one woman who loudly confronted an official with Chesapeake Operating as he walked out.
The earthquakes - mostly centered between Greenbrier and Guy - number about 800 since last September. The strongest of them was a 4.7-magnitude quake felt Sunday night throughout Arkansas and in neighboring states.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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Information for this article was contributed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Arkansas Online staff.