For nearly a decade, natural gas drilling in Arkansas has been accused of harming the drinking water in the Fayetteville Shale play. On Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey gave the industry a "not guilty" verdict. The federal agency released a report that said no evidence of groundwater contamination caused by gas drilling in the region could be connected.

The USGS sampled water from 127 domestic water wells in Van Buren and Faulkner Counties, the heart of the drilling region. The surveyors were searching for unusual amounts of ions and trace metals, particularly methane and chloride concentrations which can represent the by-product of hydraulic fracking. The USGS said it found no indication of contamination associated with drilling in the Fayetteville Shale area.

"Major ions and trace metals additionally were lower in the data gathered for this study than in the historical analyses. Additionally, there was no statistical difference between groundwater quality for samples from 94 wells located less than 2 miles from gas-production wells and 33 wells located more than 2 miles from gas-production wells," the report stated.

Arkansas, Wal-Mart agree to health payment system

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and officials with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced Thursday a health-payment system that could create savings of around $15 million during fiscal year 2014 and $65 million during fiscal year 2015.

Wal-Mart said the new system is a "groundbreaking effort to create a more patient-centered and cost efficient health payment system" within the state’s Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative (APII). The system is unique to Arkansas, according to Beebe and Wal-Mart officials.

Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, which has around 57,000 employees in Arkansas, has agreed to pay $670,000 to underwrite the work and will participate in the new state system.

Clyde to lead spin-off Murphy retail company

Murphy Oil Corp. announced the appointment of R. Andrew Clyde as President and CEO of Murphy Oil USA, Inc., the U.S. retail marketing subsidiary of Murphy Oil Corp. which will spin off from its parent company later this year.

Murphy Oil USA, Inc. currently has over 1,150 U.S. retail locations and recently announced an agreement with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to provide access to over 200 new locations in the midwest and southeast U.S.

Clyde is a partner in Booz & Company’s global energy practice and has over 20 years of experience in management consulting. Murphy Oil says he has expertise in "downstream value chain and gasoline and convenience retailing."

Speaker candidates rotate through bank jobs

Incoming Speaker of the House Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) is leaving his bank job, while one-time Speaker-elect Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) will take one.

Carter announced on Thursday that he would step down from his job with Centennial Bank, a subsidiary of Conway-based Home Bancshares, in order to focus on his House duties. Carter, who is also an attorney, has held the position of Division President with the bank. He will remain on the regional bank’s board.

Effective Feb. 1, 2013, Williams, also a lawyer, will be the new CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc. Southern is a community development bank that works with underserved communities in the mid-South. Williams has been a principal at the law firm of Carney Williams Bates Pulliam & Bowman PLLC, where his work focuses on consumer protection litigation.

Entergy president says burying lines would be expensive for ratepayers

Hugh McDonald, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas, said the state’s largest electricity utility had room for improvement in its response to the hard-hitting winter storm that ruptured service to hundreds of thousands of Arkansans for nearly a week. The full cost of the storm’s damage will not be determined for several more weeks.

McDonald also discussed the possibility of Entergy moving to a system of buried electrical lines to prevent widespread damage incurred from the recent storm from happening again. He said that a number of out-of-state studies indicate that the expense for converting existing lines to underground status would be tremendous. "There’s pros and cons of each," McDonald said in reference to burying lines or not.

Metro unemployment rates all decline in November

Unemployment rates in Arkansas’ eight metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) all declined in November 2012 compared to one year ago.

The Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA had the lowest jobless rate in the state at 4.6 percent, down from 5.4 percent in November 2011. The number was also lower than October 2012 when unemployment leveled at 5 percent in the region.

The Pine Bluff MSA had the highest unemployment rate at 8.3 percent in November 2012, but that was down a full percentage point from the previous year. In October 2012, Pine Bluff’s jobless rate stood at 8.4 percent.

America’s Car-Mart opens first Georgia dealership

America’s Car-Mart, Inc. opened its 119th dealership and the first location in Georgia. The new dealership in Woodstock, Georgia, continues the growth spurt for the publicly-traded, Bentonville-based "buy here, pay here" used car dealer.

"Woodstock is our 5th new dealership for this fiscal year. We presently have five new locations secured which will keep us on track for 10 for the full fiscal year," said CEO William "Hank" Henderson.


Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is; his Web site address is