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Is "fracking" causing earthquakes near Fayetteville Shale?

There are growing concerns over natural gas drilling on the Fayetteville shale. In both Van Buren and Faulkner counties thousands of gas wells have sprung up causing concerns over everything from earthquakes to potentially contaminated drinking water, dying crops, and ruined roads.
Van Buren and Faulkner County are home to hundreds of the Fayetteville Shale's more than 2800 natural gas wells. The growing concerns in each county range from to ripped up roads to earthquakes.

Natural gas wells dot Van Buren County's landscape. Gregory Hutchins has seen a lot of change in the last 34 years, especially in the past two.

"I think it's really helped out a lot of people. Our roads have taken a beating from the traffic. All in all, it's been a good thing," says Hutchins.

Hutchins is pro-drilling, saying it is good for the economy.

"This part of the county, and stuff, would really been hurt if it not for some of these jobs," says Hutchins.

After asking around, FOX16 found Southwestern Energy's latest natural gas drilling site. Trucks are going in and out of the site all the time, but according to the man in charge they are not drilling for natural gas. But, we talked to the man who lives across the street and he says they have eight to ten natural gas wells at the site. He has one in his backyard. He did not want to go on camera, but he is pretty upset because he says one of the trucks backed into his fence pole, and he wants it fixed.

Southwestern Energy has 22 drilling rigs in the area. All of that drilling has landowners in Faulkner County outraged.

"They test for a couple of heavy metals. They're not doing all the testing that we need done in Arkansas. It's a bunch of bull," yelled one woman.

After nearly 400 minor earthquakes in north central Arkansas this year, the Office of Emergency Management brought everyone together this month to calm nerves. Many in the crowd fear a drilling process, called fracking, is causing the quakes and polluting the environment.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and various chemicals into rock formations to open fractures in the shale to get to the gas out faster.

While scientists with the Arkansas Geological Survey do not believe natural gas drilling is causing the earthquakes, they are still researching the issue. The EPA is now studying whether fracking affects drinking water and public health.

"I had some squash, I turned my sprinkler system on, it killed every one of them that night," said one concerned farmer.

The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission is in the final stages of formulating a rule to provide information about chemicals used in natural gas wells.

And then, there are the crumbling roads.

"I think the oil companies ought to have to repair them before, when the drilling's done they ought to have to fix them when they move out," says Hutchins.

While Southwestern Energy denied our interview requests, the company's website states: "Southwestern Energy Company is committed to... being a good corporate citizen in the communities in which we operate and to providing responsible environmental stewardship."

But expect the protests to continue as long as the water questions remain, the roads keep getting torn up, and the ground keeps shaking.

If you think you've felt an earthquake the Arkansas Geological Survey wants to know about it. You can report an earthquake on their site and you can also find contact information for the state to report any concerns you have about natural gas drilling.
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