Lawsuit Alleges Oklahoma Earthquake Linked To Fracking Injection Wells

An Oklahoma town has filed an environmental lawsuit against a number of oil and gas production companies, alleging that wastewater injection wells used by hydraulic fracturing and other mining processes caused an earthquake that registered 5.8 on the Richter Scale. 

The complaint was filed last week in federal court, seeking class action status for residents of Pawnee, Oklahoma in federal court. A group of 27 different companies are accused of knowingly putting the public at risk, by using high capacity wastewater injection wells, often associated with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations, that they knew could cause earth quakes. However, only two of the 27 companies are directly named in the lawsuit; Cummings Oil Company and Eagle Road Oil, LLC.

Hydraulic fracturing, more 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 injection wells.

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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.

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 incidents have included earthquakes exceeding 5.0 on the Richter Scale, which caused significant damage, according to a February 2015 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

In January 2015, a report published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America noted that 77 earthquakes were likely linked to fracking operations in the area around Poland Township, Ohio during just a week’s time in March 2014.

From 1967 to 2000, there were an average of 21 earthquakes per year above magnitude 3.0. However, 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.

The strongest Oklahoma earthquate so far came in September, when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled Pawnee. Since then, residents of the town of just 2,200 say they have been hit by more than 50 additional quakes, including a magnitude 5.0 quake on November 6. Residents report the quakes cracked walls and foundations and caused electrical short circuits. No injuries were reported.

A fracking earthquake lawsuit was also filed by the Sierra Club, which sued Chesapeake Operating LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. and New Dominion LLC in February.

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.

The same day the Sierra Club complaint was filed, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission announced a new plan to address the quakes, calling for fracking operators to decrease wastewater injection by 500,000 barrels.

Fracking Health Concerns

Earthquakes are not the only concern linked to hydraulic fracturing, with several groups raising concerns about the health risks from fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed in June 2015 that some cases of hydraulic fracturing had resulted in polluted water supplies, but the agency lacked the sufficient evidence to truly understand how widespread the problem could be and the harm it could cause to residents drinking and bath water.

Fracking has become a concern to environmentalists, lawmakers, and local communities, as dozens of plaintiff’s have, and continue to file lawsuits against the drilling companies for contaminating their local wells and exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered their property values.

A number of fracking lawsuits have been filed in the United States over the health risks as well, with one of the most recent verdicts issued in March by a federal jury in Pennsylvania that awarded two families in excess of $4.2 million in damages over fracking tainting their drinking water. The two families were the last of more than 40 families in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area to resolve lawsuits over fracking problems.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Texas which is another popular state for fracking. In 2014 a family was awarded $2.9 million in damages due to the drilling company creating a public nuisance from fracking that caused nearly two dozen wells to become contaminated with toxic chemicals.

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