Energy Companies Sued Over 2011 Oklahoma Quake want the Case Dismissed

Energy Companies Sued Over 2011 Oklahoma Quake want the Case Dismissed

On Wednesday, 2 energy companies asked a judge to toss out a lawsuit by an Oklahoma woman who alleges she was injured in an earthquake caused by the injection of fracking wastewater deep into the ground.

Prague resident Sandra Ladra claims Spess Oil Co. and New Dominion LLC are liable because they operate wastewater disposal wells that triggered the largest quake in state history. Ladra claims the 2011, 5.6-magnitude temblor crumbled her 2-story fireplace, causing rocks to fall on her legs and gash her knee.

Landra is suing the companies, in addition to 25 unidentified parties. [1]

In 2014, Lincoln County District Judge Cynthia Ferrell Ashwood dismissed Landra’s lawsuit after ruling that the district court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the matter and that it should be handled by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC).

Her case was resurrected in June when the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned Judge Ashwood’s decision. The ruling cleared the way for more lawsuits against the fracking industry, and there are now more cases pending, including one filed by Oklahoma’s Sierra Club. [2]

“I am angry and offended that the oil and gas industry has been so slow to protect Oklahoma and its citizens in the face of this earthquake crisis,” Barbara Vanhanken, chairwoman of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement last month. “Stopping this ever-strengthening earthquake crisis is critical to the health and well-being of all Oklahomans. To ignore the human cost being paid for the earthquake problems tied to oil and gas operations in Oklahoma is cold-blooded and heartless. It reinforces the concept that profits matter more than people.”

Ashwood, who also presided over Wednesday’s hearing, took Landra’s suit under advisement and did not issue an immediate ruling.

Landra is asking for $75,000 in actual damages along with punitive damages.

In August 2014, Spess Oil manager Steve Spess said in a statement that his company doesn’t believe it caused the earthquake because it injects wastewater at low pressure.

Energy companies say the litigation could cripple oil and gas production in Oklahoma, where the economy is largely dependent on the industry. Those in favor of regulation say it could lead to safer drilling practices.

So far this year, 850 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater have rattled Oklahoma. There were 584 quakes of the same magnitude in 2014, and just 109 in 2013. There has been more than 2,100 earthquakes of magnitude 1.5 or greater this year. Oklahoma, where the yearly average of 3.0-magnitude or larger quakes was 2 prior to 2009, is now known as “earthquake capital” of the United States.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey has linked the spike in earthquakes to wastewater injection. A joint study by the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and the U.S. Geological Survey found that the 2011 quake that allegedly harmed Landra was linked to fluid injection.

“When you look at the actual science and you look at the data, you can’t help but go, ‘It’s the injection wells, stupid.’ It’s just that obvious,” Scott E. Poynter, Ladra’s lead attorney, said. “Oklahoma shouldn’t have more earthquakes than anywhere on the planet, but it does.”

Experts said in November that it’s just a matter of time until the “Big One” – a quake even stronger than 5.6 – hits the state.


[1] ABC News

[2] EcoWatch