Oklahoma City, OK – Sierra Club and Public Justice have filed a federal lawsuit against three energy companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Oklahoma, alleging that production waste from fracking and oil production have contributed to an alarming increase in earthquake activity in the state. The suit comes in the wake of a 5.1 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, which was the third strongest ever recorded in the state. The suit, filed against New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company, demands the companies, as a first step, “reduce, immediately and substantially, the amounts of production waste they are injecting into the ground.”
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 filed today 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.” On Saturday morning, the state experienced a 5.1 magnitude quake, the third-largest recorded in Oklahoma.
“The science laid out in our case is clear,” said Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice. “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.”
Continued injection of production waste, the groups said in their complaint, “may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.” The complaint goes on to note that, “Overlaying the locations of Defendants’ wells onto the places where earthquakes above magnitude 3.5 have been felt shows that earthquakes are occurring in the vicinity of [the companies’] wells and along faults that are close to the wells.”
“The dangers associated with fracking and its related processes has never been more clear than it is here in Oklahoma,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Director of Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter. “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.”
In addition to requesting a substantial reduction in production waste, the suit seeks an order requiring the companies to reinforce vulnerable structures, which could be impacted by large magnitude earthquakes. 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 doesn¹t 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 important, to limit the amount of damage this process is causing across the Sooner State.”
In addition to counsel from Public Justice and Wetiz & Luxenberg, PC, Sierra Club is also represented by Scott Poynter of Poynter Law Group and local counsel William B. Federman.