A group of landowners in three Arkansas counties are asking a federal court to allow a class action lawsuit against three oil and natural gas companies, claiming they are illegally operating six wastewater injection wells in the Fayetteville Shale.

An amended version of the lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The original lawsuit was filed on Aug. 10 by four landowners in Faulkner County against Southwestern Energy Co. The amended complaint seeks to add another 11 landowners, as well as Chesapeake Energy Corp. and XTO Energy Inc. as defendants.

“These companies are using the rock strata under our clients’ homes to dispose of oilfield waste without compensating them for it,” Timothy Holton, plaintiffs’ attorney with the Memphis, TN-based firm Deal, Cooper & Holton PLLC, told NGI’s Shale Daily on Monday. “They’re collecting up to $12 a barrel from well owners to dispose of this stuff, [then] putting it under their land and their neighbor’s land at no remuneration to the property owner. They are basically taking that property for oilfield disposal.

“There are some leases that we have found where [landowners] are getting compensated, so obviously [the companies] recognize the value of it. But they’re not compensating people who are adjacent to these wells, and clearly [the oilfield waste] is migrating there.”

At issue are six Class II injection wells, which the companies are using to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in the Fayetteville Shale. The wells are:

The lawsuit seeks class action status and a trial by jury. The petitioners are also seeking $2 million in compensatory damages per plaintiff, and $15 million in punitive damages per plaintiff.

Houston-based Southwestern said it reuses 90 to 95% of flowback water from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations, and that the small remainder is sent to injection wells for disposal.

“[Our] underground injection wells are designed, constructed and operated to comply with all applicable laws and our own best practices to ensure the wastewater is safely injected into the approved disposal zone,” Southwestern said Friday. “In addition, we have signed agreements that specifically give us permission to conduct the disposal activities described in the lawsuit.”

Southwestern had filed a motion to dismiss the original lawsuit in September.

A spokesman for Chesapeake told NGI’s Shale Daily on Monday that the Oklahoma City-based company had no comment on the case. A representative for Fort Worth-based XTO did not return a message seeking comment.

The case is Hill et al v. Southwestern Energy Co. (No. 4:12-CV-00500-DPM).

Although the plaintiffs didn’t cite earthquake activity in the lawsuit, last year regulators with the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission established a permanent moratorium on wastewater injection wells in two regions of the Fayetteville Shale after a series of temblors there (see Shale Daily, July 29, 2011).

The moratorium extends about five miles on either side of two centerlines extending northeast to southwest through the Guy-Greenbrier earthquake swarm and the historic Enola earthquake swarm, from north of Greers Ferry Lake to the Arkansas River.