Environmental groups sue oil companies over Oklahoma earthquakes

Oklahoma Disposal Well Site

Oklahoma Disposal Well Site

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Oklahoma leaders continue to contemplate what to do about the rise in earthquakes in the Sooner State, a pair of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit.

Sierra Club and Public Justice filed a federal lawsuit against three energy companies that use hydraulic fracturing in the state.

The groups say the production waste from fracking have contributed to an alarming increase in earthquake activity over the past few years.

“The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased more than 300 fold, from a maximum of 167 before 2009 to 5,838 in 2015. As the number of earthquakes has increased, so has their severity. For example, the number of magnitude 3.5 earthquakes has increased one hundred fold from 4 in 2009 to 220 in 2015. These waste-induced earthquakes have toppled historic towers, caused parts of houses to fall and injure people, cracked basements, and shattered nerves, as people fear there could be worse to come,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit demands that New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company “reduce, immediately and substantially, the amounts of production waste they are injecting into the ground.”

The lawsuit was filed following a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that was recorded near Fairview. The quake was the third strongest ever recorded in the state.

“The science laid out in our case is clear,” Paul Bland, the 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 lawsuit also works to require the companies to reinforce vulnerable structures, which could be damaged by a large earthquake. It also asks the court to require the establishment of an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center.

“The seismic activity of this past weekend is quickly becoming the new normal in Oklahoma,” said Robin L. Greenwald, head of Weitz & Luxenberg’s Environmental, Toxic Tort, and Consumer Protection litigation unit. “If the fracking industry doesn’t change its ways, the next earthquake could be catastrophic. 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 importantly, to limit the amount of damage this process is causing across the Sooner State.”