February 4, 2016, Trial News
Oklahoma residents file class action over fracking-related earthquake damage
Residents of Logan County, just north of Oklahoma City, have filed a class action lawsuit against four energy companies—Chesapeake Operating, New Dominion, Devon Energy Production, and SandRidge Exploration and Production. The suit, filed on Jan. 12, alleges that the companies’ fracking-related wastewater disposal has caused an increase in earthquakes, damaging residents’ homes.
Residents of Logan County, just north of Oklahoma City, have filed a class action lawsuit against four energy companies—Chesapeake Operating, New Dominion, Devon Energy Production, and SandRidge Exploration and Production. The suit, filed on Jan. 12, alleges that the companies’ fracking-related wastewater disposal has caused an increase in earthquakes, damaging residents’ homes. The companies are accused of negligence, trespass, ultra-hazardous activities, and private nuisance. (Griggs v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, No. CJ-2016-6 (Okla. Dist. Ct. Logan Cnty. filed Jan. 12, 2016).)
Recently, seismic activity has increased in Oklahoma—the plaintiffs cite research showing that before 2009, the state saw only one or two earthquakes greater than magnitude 3.0 annually. In 2014, there were nearly 600 earthquakes of that magnitude, and in 2015, there were nearly 800. Only recently have earthquakes been linked to the oil and gas industry.
The fracking process results in the production of wastewater that is unsuitable for other uses. Frequently, companies dispose of this wastewater by injecting it into wells deep underground. These injection wells are usually deeper than oil and gas reservoirs and drinking-water aquifers, so the wastewater can be permanently isolated.
The injection of wastewater has been linked to increased seismic activity because it increases pressure on normally calm fault lines. Geological surveys have found no natural seismic changes that could explain the drastic increase in earthquakes, and a 2014 study linked earthquakes directly to wastewater injections in central Oklahoma.
The homes of plaintiffs Lisa Griggs and April Marler have been extensively damaged by hundreds of earthquakes that have occurred in the past two years, and they argue that the earthquakes will continue and worsen, damaging property and endangering lives, if the defendant companies are allowed to continue injection-well operations in Oklahoma.
Last year, as Trial News covered, the Oklahoma Supreme Court cleared a roadblock for plaintiffs bringing these cases. In Ladra v. New Dominion (2015 Okla. 53 (2015)), the court allowed a case involving injuries suffered during an earthquake to proceed in state court, rather than before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Although that commission has exclusive jurisdiction over injection wells, the court found that this jurisdiction extended only to public rights—it did not preclude private tort actions, which could be brought in the state’s district court.
The proposed class would include all Oklahoma residents owning real property from 2011 on, except the defendants and presiding judge.
For more information on litigating fracking cases, see “Drilling Away Defenses in Fracking Cases” in the December 2015 issue of Trial magazine.