An Oklahoma judge has rejected another attempt by energy companies to dismiss a fracking lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges she was injured by an earthquake caused by the controversial drilling technique.
The complaint was filed by Sandra Ladra has against Spess Oil Co., New Dominion, LLC and 25 other unnamed defendants for injuries suffered in a 2011 earthquake in Prague. The 5.6-magnitude quake was the largest in Oklahoma history, and has been linked to hydraulic fracturing injection wells associated with oil and gas production.
Last week, Lincoln County District Judge Cynthia Ferrell Ashwood denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the statute of limitations. Judge Ashwood previously threw out the case in 2014, but the decision was overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Recent research has linked fracking wells to an unprecedented increase in powerful earthquakes across the South and Midwest. U.S. government geologists now say that Oklahoma suffers more earthquakes than California, due entirely to fracking and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.
Ladra first attempted to sue the companies in district court, but the companies filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the case should be decided by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), which is seen as highly favoring oil and gas industry in that state. The case made its way to the highest court in the state, which shot down the industry’s attempt to bar the fracking lawsuit.
As a result of the concerns about fracking earthquakes, the OCC and the state’s own geological survey are considering regulations that could significantly reduce the volume of water pumped into the state’s 3,000 injection wells.
Last year, Oklahoma had 585 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater, which many link to fracking oil and gas extraction and wastewater injection wells used to get rid of fracking fluids.
Those shakes have included earthquakes exceeding 5.0 on the Richter Scale, which caused significant damage, according to a February report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The study came just a month after a similar report was published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, which reported that 77 earthquakes likely linked to fracking operations shook the area around Poland Township in Ohio in just a week’s time in March 2014.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a controversial gas extraction process, where a mixture of water, sand and fluids that the gas industry has fought to keep secret is injected into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.
Researchers have noted a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States over the past few years. Those earthquakes have coincided with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal wells, particularly in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to studies.
From 1967 to 2000, there were an average of 21 earthquakes per year above magnitude 3.0. From 2010 to 2012, as hydraulic fracturing took off, so did the number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher, with an average of 100 per year, according to the USGS.
Fracking earthquakes not only happen miles away from the wells, threatening human life, but they may also threaten vital structures such as dams and nuclear power plants, scientists warn.
Fracking Chemical Health Concerns
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have also expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that some hydraulic fracturing has resulted in polluted water supplies. However, the agency noted that the problem was not yet widespread. It also noted that it lacked sufficient evidence to truly understand how widespread the problem may be.
The state of New York decided to ban some hydraulic fracturing late last year, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.
State officials said that a six-year study’s findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits. That ban was expanded following a final version of that report released this Spring.
Last year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.