Ruling Still Leaves Door Open to Another Earthquake Lawsuit

An attorney with Public Justice says even if an Oklahoma City federal judge tossed the group’s earthquake lawsuit against some Oklahoma energy companies, it doesn’t end the state’s responsibility.

Paul Bland, Executive Director of the organization said the lawsuit filed for the Sierra Club shows more must be done by the state to control wastewater wells and their resulting earthquakes.

“Today’s decision does not end the state’s responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of Oklahomans. The state allowed the oil and gas industry to operate unchecked in the past and the result was more powerful and more frequent earthquakes,” said Bland in a statement issued after U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot made his ruling.

The judge dismissed the February 2016 lawsuit against Devon Energy Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and New Dominion LLC stating that the Corporation Commission was the best venue to determine the “highly complex and technical issue” of how much disposed wastewater is acceptable to avoid seismic activity.

“The short of the matter is that the OCC, aided, if necessary, by other agencies (including the United States Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey) and researchers, is better equipped than the court to resolve the seismicity issues relating to disposal well activities, by specialization, by insight gained through experience, and by more flexible procedure,” wrote the judge.

Public Justice was joined by Weitz and Luxenberg in suing the three companies along with SandRidge Exploration. But SandRidge was later excluded after it filed for bankruptcy.

“While we are disappointed in the court’s decision, we are pleased this case has forced the state agencies to take some measures to protect Oklahomans from oil and gas industry activity that is wreaking havoc on the lives and properties of the community,” said Robin Greenwald, head of Weitz and Luxenberg’s Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. “This case was one of many actions that we have taken against oil and gas companies that continue to put lives and livelihoods in jeopardy and we will continue in our efforts to hold them accountable for the damage they have caused and continue to cause to the people of Oklahoma.”

The two law groups noted that the federal judge’s ruling was “without prejudice” and still provides an opportunity for the suit to be filed in the event that conditions continue to worsen in Oklahoma.

Speaking for the Sierra Club, Johnson Bridgwater said more must be done by the state.

“Last year, we had a record number of large quakes threatening Oklahomans, our homes, and our communities. The bottom line is that the only way to truly protect Oklahomans is with a moratorium for the earthquake-prone area, not a series of reduction orders.”



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