Emma Gallimore Mar. 2, 2016, 10:01am


OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) — The Sierra Club and Public Justice have added a third lawsuit to the two already pending against energy companies in Oklahoma, alleging that fracking is increasing earthquakes throughout the state.

The federal lawsuit was filed against New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company. Another class action lawsuit brought by Lisa Griggs and April Marler is already pending against those companies, as well as Sandridge Exploration and Production. The other class action was filed by residents of Edmond and Oklahoma City against 12 energy companies operating in the state.

“Given the political climate that’s going on right now with a lot of unease regarding fracking it’s not surprising that the Sierra Club has gotten involved,” Eric Skanchy of Stoel Rives said.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting natural gas from underground shale by injecting a pressurized water mixture into the rock. The used water, or fracturing fluid, contains toxic chemicals and must be stored in wastewater wells underground.

All three lawsuits allege that wastewater from fracking has contributed to recent earthquakes in Oklahoma. On Jan. 1, a 4.1 magnitude earthquake shook Oklahoma City, and two more followed six days later at magnitude 4.3 and magnitude 4.8. The third largest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma, a 5.1 magnitude quake, hit on Feb. 13.

“With any case of such a technical nature, it comes down to a battle of the experts,” Skanchy said.

According to earthquakes.ok.gov, a website maintained by the Office of the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment, Oklahoma experienced 109 earthquakes of magnitude three or greater in 2013, 585 in 2014 and 907 in 2015.

“That increase cannot be explained by natural causes alone,” Secretary Michael J. Teague said in a video on the site.

Using information from the United States Geological Survey, the site goes on to explain that induced earthquakes are not caused by fracking but by injection of wastewater, that not all wastewater injection wells induce earthquakes, and that in Oklahoma less than 10 percent of the water injected in wastewater disposal wells is from hydraulic fracturing.

However, the Oklahoma Geological Survey also found that it was impossible to determine whether earthquakes were the result of fracking.

Skanchy said that by filing their own lawsuit, the Sierra Club and Public Justice has added momentum to the issue.

They are seeking several forms of relief including an injunction ordering the defendants to reduce production wastes, the reinforcement of valuable structures that could be impacted by earthquakes and the establishment of an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center to determine the amount of wastes that can be injected before an earthquake could be expected.

 They have also asked the court to issue a declaration sating that the disposal of production wastes presents a danger to public health in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

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