Lawsuit Filed Over Oklahoma's 'Fracking' Earthquakes as Its Third Largest Quake Is Felt in 7 Other States
The suit against New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company alleges that wastewater from fracking and oil production have contributed to the state's alarming spike in earthquake activity.
Map of Oklahoma. The orange dots represent the number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 and higher from 2010 to date. The blue dots represent the state’s wastewater disposal wells. Photo credit: Earthquakes in Oklahoma
The lawsuit demands the companies, as a first step, to “reduce, immediately and substantially, the amounts of production waste they are injecting into the ground.”
The lawsuit was filed the same day that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission made their largest push yet to curb the state's seismic activity. According to the Associated Press, the state's oil and gas regulator ordered operators of nearly 250 injection wells to reduce the amount of wastewater they inject underground.
The commission released a plan that covers more than 5,200 square miles in northwest Oklahoma and called for a reduction of more than 500,000 barrels of wastewater daily, or about 40 percent less than previous levels, the AP reported.
The commission's measure comes three days after a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook northwest Oklahoma. Not only was the quake felt in seven other states, it's the third-strongest temblor ever recorded in the state, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
"Without knowing more specifics about the wastewater injection and oil and gas production in this area, the USGS cannot conclude whether or not this particular earthquake was caused by industrial-related, human activities," the agency said. "However, we do know that many earthquakes in the area have been triggered by wastewater fluid injection."
Fairview, Oklahoma's 5.1 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 13 that was felt in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas was the largest earthquake in the state since a 5.6 earthquake struck in 2011. Photo credit: USGS
In 2014, seismologists reported more than 5,000 earthquakes in Oklahoma. In 2015, the state experienced 907 quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater. “The earthquakes are continuing in 2016,” the suit states, noting that “Oklahoma City residents were awakened on January 1 with a 4.1 magnitude earthquake. Six days later, 4.3 and 4.8 magnitude earthquakes occurred back-to-back. [The state] has had 131 earthquakes from January 1 through 16, 2016, ranging from 2.01 to 4.8.”
The Tulsa World examined a recent Oklahoma Geological Survey study, which found an 81 percent jump from 2009 to 2014 in wastewater volumes pumped back underground from oil and gas activities, in which wastewater volumes skyrocketed to 1.538 billion barrels in 2014 from 849 million in 2009. The rise coincides with the state’s leap in seismicity, Tulsa World observed.
“The science laid out in our case is clear,” Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice, said. “Oklahoma may be on the verge of experiencing a strong and potentially catastrophic earthquake. All evidence points to alarming seismic activity in and around fracking operations, and that activity is becoming more frequent and more severe. This lawsuit, which we filed after the three companies named in our suit refused to take steps of their own, is an action brought by residents of Oklahoma in an attempt to protect their property, their communities and their lives.”
The groups said in their complaint that continued injection “may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.”
“The dangers associated with fracking and its related processes has never been more clear than it is here in Oklahoma,” Johnson Bridgwater, director of Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter, said. “Oklahomans, just as all Americans do, deserve the right to live in peace and comfort—not to live in fear of man-made earthquakes. It is our hope that these three companies will recognize the immediate danger they are putting communities in, and put our health and our environment ahead of its profits.”
OKLAHOMA SIERRA CLUB SUING ENERGY COMPANIES OVER EARTHQUAKE CRISIS: https://t.co/tNvBsUmcjI #oklahomaearthquakes— Oklahoma Sierra Club (@Oklahoma Sierra Club)1455648977.0
Not only are the groups requesting a substantial reduction in production waste, they are also seeking an order that requires the companies to reinforce vulnerable structures, which could be impacted by large magnitude earthquakes. The suit also asks the court to require the establishment of an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center.
“If the fracking industry doesn't change its ways, the next earthquake could be catastrophic," Robin L. Greenwald, head of Weitz & Luxenberg’s Environmental, Toxic Tort and Consumer Protection litigation unit, said. "This lawsuit seeks to beat back immediately the amount of production waste that fracking creates, to reduce the deep well injection of that waste and, most important, to limit the amount of damage this process is causing across the Sooner State."
Public Justice attorney Richard Webster told Radio Oklahoma News that "the polluters know very well that their activities will trigger earthquakes and yet they continue to inject large volumes of waste with impunity despite that knowledge.
"What we’re asking them for is to come down to a level where the injection does not induce earthquakes."
Listen to @FPBland & attorney @EnviroWeb discuss our #fracking lawsuit with @RadioOklahoma: https://t.co/FHMUKdtGY3— Public Justice (@Public Justice)1455643715.0
Devon spokesman John Porretto told the AP it would be inappropriate to discuss the suit from the Sierra Club and Public Justice. The other companies didn't immediately reply to requests for comment.
Many have criticized the state's slow response to the regulation of wastewater injection. Al Jazeera America's bombshell documentary, Earthquake State, exposed the maddening hurdles and bureaucracy that state scientists and regulators face in their efforts to halt the potential crisis and national security threat.
As the quakes continue to strike the state with increasing frequency, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered $1.4 million in emergency funds for earthquake research during her annual State of the State last month.
"I'm committed to funding seismic research, bringing on line advanced technology and more staff to fully support our regulators at they take meaningful action on earthquakes," she said in a statement.
The Sierra Club and Public Justice have joined the mounting lawsuits against energy companies. Last month, 14 residents of Edmond, Oklahoma filed suit against 12 "reckless" energy companies, claiming their fracking operations caused the state's string of earthquakes.
Get ready #fracking Co! RT Oklahoma Residents Sue 12 'Reckless' #Fracking Companies for Earthquake Damage https://t.co/oFczFDDG3A @ecowatch— Bianca Jagger (@Bianca Jagger)1453214403.0
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
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