Quantcast
Energy

Citizens Can Sue Fracking Companies for Earthquake Damage, Says Oklahoma Supreme Court

Oklahoma almost never used to have earthquakes. But in the last six years they've increased so much that last year the state surged past California as the most seismically active state in the continental U.S. Prior to 2009, the state averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude annually. By 2014 that number had soared to 585, up from 109 in 2013.

The culprit? Scientists are convinced it's the wastewater injection wells that have accompanied the explosion of fracking in that state during the same time period.

Oil and gas company New Dominion is Prague, Oklahoma's biggest employer—and has been accused of causing damaging earthquakes from its wastewater injection wells. Photo credit: New Dominion

Now the Oklahoma Supreme Court has cleared the way for citizens to sue the oil and gas companies responsible for the wells. In a 7-0 decision, with two justices not voting, the court said that Sandra Ladra, a resident of Prague, Oklahoma, which was hit by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake on Nov. 5, 2011, could seek injuries for injuries she suffered in that tremor.

"On November 5, 2011, Appellant was at home in Prague, Oklahoma watching television in her living room with her family when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck nearby," reads Ladra's complaint. "Suddenly, Appellant's home began to shake, causing rock facing on the two-story fireplace and chimney to fall into the living room area. Some of the falling rocks struck Appellant and caused significant injury to her knees and legs, and she was rushed immediately to an emergency room for treatment. She claims personal injury damages in excess of $75,000."

The industry said that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industries and tends to be very friendly toward them, should deal with these cases. The state supreme court disagreed.

"The commission, although possessing many of the powers of a court of record, is without the authority to entertain a suit for damages,” the court found. “Private tort actions, therefore, are exclusively within the jurisdiction of district courts.”

That decision also clears the way for a second Prague citizen to sue for property damages. That plaintiff, Jennifer L. Cooper, is seeking class-action status, and if granted, tens of millions of dollars in damages could be awarded. Both plaintiffs are suing Tulsa-based New Dominion, which calls itself "the leader in harvesting hydrocarbons," and the smaller Spess Oil Co. of Cleveland, Oklahoma.

“It is refreshing to see that the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruling will not allow the oil and gas industry to skirt responsibility for the damage their earthquake-inducing practices have caused Oklahomans," said Food & Water Watch organizer Matt Ohloff.

"We know oil & gas wastewater disposal wells are causing the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, and those suffering from the property, physical and psychological damage from these earthquakes should receive full rewards directly from the responsible parties—oil & gas. And while it is a major victory that these lawsuits will be allowed to move forward, what we ultimately need is for the Oklahoma state legislature and Oklahoma Governor to enact a moratorium on oil & wastewater disposal wells to stop the earthquakes from happening in the first place," Ohloff continued.

Read page 1

The Prague earthquake was the strongest ever felt in Oklahoma and was followed in the next few days by two more tremors of 5.0 magnitude or greater, destroying half a dozen homes and damaging more than 170 others in the town of about 2,300 people and the surrounding area, where New Dominion is the largest employer. One of its three field offices is located in Prague.

Back in 2012, eight months after the damaging quakes, Jean Antonides, New Dominion's vice president of exploration, said it was silly to think the company's injection wells caused the quakes.

"That's people watching too many Superman movies," Antonides scoffed to Energy & Environment Daily. "Some individuals pick only the data that serves their purpose."

He suggested the real cause of the quakes was heavy rains.

"When you have rainfall amounts of six inches over a few day period, these rainfalls cover a thousand square miles—that's a lot of weight," he said. "That much new weight—potentially trillions of tons—if it's along or across a fault, can be enough to cause an earthquake. If you change the weight, relative near surface, across that fault—either reducing the weight on one side, loading up the other side or vice versa, that could be the trigger point."

Scientists not employed by oil and gas companies have tied the increase in wastewater injection wells to increases in earthquakes. Image credit: Food & Water Watch

Other scientists not employed by oil and gas exploration companies don't agree with his theory.

"Large areas of the U.S. that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said last year. “This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central U.S., is not the result of natural processes. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

With fossil fuel extraction booming in Oklahoma since the widespread use of fracking began around 2009, the state has been under pressure from oil and gas companies to downplay the connection between injection wells and earthquakes. For instance, in November 2013, University of  Oklahoma president David Boren requested that state seismologist Austin Holland meet with billionaire Harold Hamm of Oklahoma city-based Continental Resources, who is known as the founding father of the U.S. fracking boom.

Bloomberg reported, "“Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer.”

Boren called the meeting "purely informational," but Holland said it was "just a little bit intimidating" and he subsequently dialed down making the connection publicly. However, state officials have been less and less able to deny the connection, as studies keep piling up making the connection both in Oklahoma and other states. Those studies provide ammunition for Ladra's and Cooper's attorneys as they are now cleared to press their cases in the courts.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Confirmed: Oklahoma Earthquakes Caused By Fracking

Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm

Oil and Gas Billionaire Pressured Oklahoma Scientist to Ignore Fracking-Earthquake Link

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The Dutch Weed Burger is made from three types of algae. The Dutch Weed Burger

How Marine Algae Could Help Feed the World

By William Moomaw and Asaf Tzachor

Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.

Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.

Keep reading... Show less
A Bureau of Land Management contractor's helicopter forces a wild horse into a trap during the recent roundup at the Salt Wells Creek. Steve Paige

Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros: BLM Calls for Shooting 90,000

On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.

At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

‘Geostorm’ Movie and Climate Hacking: Are the Dangers Real?

By Jane A. Flegal and Andrew Maynard

Hollywood's latest disaster flick, "Geostorm," is premised on the idea that humans have figured out how to control the earth's climate. A powerful satellite-based technology allows users to fine-tune the weather, overcoming the ravages of climate change. Everyone, everywhere can quite literally "have a nice day," until—spoiler alert!—things do not go as planned.

Admittedly, the movie is a fantasy set in a deeply unrealistic near-future. But coming on the heels of one of the most extreme hurricane seasons in recent history, it's tempting to imagine a world where we could regulate the weather.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Wikimedia Commons

GOP-Controlled Senate Paves Way for Oil Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Senate Republicans' narrow passage of the 2018 budget plan on Thursday opened the door for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the GOP for sneaking the "backdoor drilling provision" through the budget process. Past proposals to drill in the refuge have consistently failed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
iStock

Corporate Fleets Making the Switch to Electric Vehicles

By Gina Coplon-Newfield and Sung-Jae Park

Recently, 10 major transnational corporations launched EV100, a new global initiative to slash emissions by increasing the number of corporate fleet electric vehicles (EV) on the road. EV100 companies, including Ikea, Unilever and HP, are committing to, by 2030, integrate EVs into their owned or leased fleets and install EV charging stations for customers and employees.

The full initial list of companies, many of which operate many thousands of fleet vehicles, includes: Baidu, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Heathrow Airport, HP Inc., IKEA Group, LeasePlan, METRO AG, PG&E, Unilever and Vattenfall. Vattenfall, the Swedish power company that serves most of Europe, intends to meet the campaign's commitments, and then some. "Replacing our whole 3,500 car fleet with EV in the coming five years, working with our customers to deploy charging infrastructure, and building northern Europe's biggest connected charging network, are three examples of actions we are taking to promote a sustainable and climate smarter living for customers and citizens," Magnus Hall, CEO of Vattenfall, said.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
www.youtube.com

Losses From California Wildfires Top $1 Billion, Expected to Rise 'Dramatically'

Insured losses from fires in Northern California have topped $1 billion and are expected to rise "dramatically," state insurance officials announced Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights
Damage from Hurricane Maria. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Puerto Rico's Revival Depends on Empowering Small-Scale Farmers

Reporting by Saulo Araujo

Houses without roofs and trees without leaves is all the eyes could see in the week following the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought. The Category 5 storm with 150+ miles per hour winds was the strongest to hit the island in over a century, leaving the entire population without water and power. Weeks later 3 million people are still without electricity.

Up in the mountains, small-scale farmers lost their crops, and their ability to feed their families was abruptly leveled. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica (Boricuá) a grassroots organization of more than 100 families made up of small-scale farmers, farmworkers and organizers across Puerto Rico and the islands of Vieques & Culebra, continues working to communicate with their members in rural areas and to assess the damages. Boricua has made great progress in the last three decades to organize and support farmers, facilitate farmer-to-farmer trainings, and build solidarity nationally and globally. They are helping to fuel agroecology on the island, bringing locally grown, nutritious food to their communities and to market.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
The damaged oil platform in Lake Pontchartrain, LA after the Oct. 15 explosion. U.S. Coast Guard

Gulf Oil Spill Off Louisiana Coast Is 2x Bigger Than Original Estimate

LLOG Exploration Company, LLC drastically underestimated the amount of oil its fractured pipeline spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last week.

The oil and gas operator first estimated that it spewed about 340,000 gallons of oil. Now, according to a Coast Guard announcement, the company is now reporting a discharge of 672,000 gallons—about two times the initial estimate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox