Hydraulic Fracturing Lawsuits Filed Over Earthquakes

Energy companies are facing a growing number of lawsuits over hydraulic fracturing, the controversial gas mining process, including allegations that the drilling operations increase the risk of earthquakes.  

Sandra Ladra, of Prague, Oklahoma, recently filed a hydraulic fracturing earthquake lawsuit in Lincoln County Circuit Court, naming more than 25 energy companies as defendants. The complaint alleges that the gas mining operations caused a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in November 2011, during which Ladra was severely injured when her chimney collapsed and rocks and bricks fell on her legs.

Ladra was hospitalized due to her injuries, and the lawsuit indicates that she will likely need to undergo knee replacement surgery.

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According to the findings of a study published in the journal Science in July 2013, hydraulic fracturing increases the risk of nearby earthquakes. Other subsequent studies have also confirmed a link between hydrofracking operations and earthquakes.

Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process of gas extraction 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 seen a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States over the past few years. That increase has coincided with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal wells, particularly in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

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 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Fracking earthquakes can not only happen miles away from the wells, threatening human life, but they can also threaten vital structures such as dams and nuclear power plants, scientists warn.

Ladra’s complaint is the latest in an increasing number of similar claims being made nationwide. Hydraulic fracturing lawsuits include two claims filed last year in Texas over quakes that allegedly caused property damage, and a group of 40 Arkansas homeowners who say that hydrofracking by Chesapeake operating Inc. and BHP Billiton Ltd. caused numerous minor earthquakes that damaged their homes.

The quake associated with Ladra’s injuries is the strongest linked to hydraulic fracturing to date.

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