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Oklahoma court dismisses lawsuit against three energy companies

Oklahoma Disposal Well Site

OKLAHOMA CITY – A lawsuit filed against three energy companies in Oklahoma that use hydraulic fracturing has been dismissed without prejudice.

Last year, the 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 stated.

The lawsuit demanded 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 also worked to require the companies to reinforce vulnerable structures, which could be damaged by a large earthquake. It also asked the court to require the establishment of an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center.

The lawsuit was filed following a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that was recorded near Fairview, one of the strongest ever recorded in the state.

On Tuesday, the Western Oklahoma District Court announced that it planned to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice due to actions taken by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

The court says that after the lawsuit was filed, the OCC took steps to implement a volume reduction plan for several dozen wastewater disposal wells in western Oklahoma.

As a result of those actions, the court deemed that the lawsuit did not need to move forward.

“Despite Governor Fallin and the OCC’s initial actions made after we filed our suit, more must be done. Last year we had a record number of large quakes threatening Oklahomans, our homes, and our communities,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Director of Sierra Club Oklahoma. “The bottom line is that the only way to truly protect Oklahomans is with a moratorium for the earthquake-prone area, not a series of reduction orders.”

“While we are disappointed in the court’s decision, we are pleased this case has forced the state agencies to take some measures to protect Oklahomans from oil and gas industry activity that is wreaking havoc on the lives and properties of the community,” said Robin Greenwald, head of Weitz & Luxenberg’s Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. “This case was one of many actions that we have taken against oil and gas companies that continue to put lives and livelihoods in jeopardy, and we will continue in our efforts to hold them accountable for the damage they have caused and continue to cause to the people of Oklahoma.”

Since the case was dismissed without prejudice, the groups say the lawsuit could be refiled if conditions deteriorate across the state.