Environmental groups sue three Oklahoma energy companies over earthquakes
by Paul Monies
The Oklahoma Sierra Club and Public Justice filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against three Oklahoma energy companies, accusing them of using wastewater injection wells that are contributing to the state's sharp rise in earthquake activity.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Oklahoma City, asks the court to "reduce, immediately and substantially," production waste from Devon Energy Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and New Dominion LLC. It also asks for the companies to "reinforce vulnerable structures" that could be affected by large earthquakes. The groups want an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center to analyze the wastewater volumes and links to induced seismicity.
"Based on publicly available data, the conclusion that wastewater injection and the recent spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas are related is inescapable," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit comes days after a magnitude-5.1 earthquake hit near Fairview on Saturday. The state has recorded more than 120 earthquakes greater than magnitude-3.0 since the beginning of the year, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Eight of those have been above magnitude-4.0.
"The science laid out in our case is clear," Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice, said in a news release. "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."
Representatives of Devon and Chesapeake couldn't be reached for immediate comment. Fred Buxton, general counsel of New Dominion, said he hadn't yet seen the lawsuit and had no comment.
The Sierra Club and Public Justice previously sent letters to Devon, Chesapeake, New Dominion and SandRidge Energy Inc. in October giving them notice that they may file a lawsuit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a 1976 federal law that allows citizen lawsuits over hazardous waste.
SandRidge is expected to be named in a separate lawsuit later in the spring, said Aidan O'Shea, a spokesman for Public Justice.
The lawsuit details the volume of wastewater injected by the three companies and cites recent peer-reviewed articles on the links between disposal well volumes and induced seismicity.
"Overlaying the locations of defendants' wells onto the places where earthquakes above magnitude 3.5 have occurred shows that earthquakes are occurring in the vicinity of defendants' wells and along faults that are close to the wells," the lawsuit said.
Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Sierra Club's Oklahoma chapter, said Oklahoma residents have the right "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," Bridgwater said in a news release.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is expected to release details Tuesday of an expanded plan to manage wastewater volumes in several counties across Oklahoma. It will involve more than 200 disposal wells injecting into the deep Arbuckle formation, long a favored location for the produced water that comes up with oil and natural gas. Researchers have said that disposal wells injecting into the Arbuckle pose the highest potential risk for causing damaging earthquakes in Oklahoma.
"The plan will involve a large-scale regional reduction in oil and gas wastewater disposal for an approximately 5,000 square mile area in western Oklahoma," the commission said on Saturday after the 5.1-magnitude earthquake that hit near Fairview.