Residents file class-action suit over man-made earthquakes

(Stock image Humboldt State University / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic )
(Stock image Humboldt State University / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic )

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Residents of a town hit by Oklahoma’s strongest earthquake have filed a class-action lawsuit against dozens of energy companies, accusing them of triggering destructive temblors by injecting wastewater from oil and gas production underground.

Pawnee residents filed the suit Thursday in district court against 27 companies, saying they operate wastewater injection wells even though they know the method causes earthquakes. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for property damage and reduced value, plus emotional distress.

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck the town of about 2,200 in September and the lawsuit claims 52 more have hit the area since. On Nov. 6, a magnitude 5.0 quake damaged dozens of buildings in nearby Cushing, a town that is home to one of the world’s largest oil hubs.

Oklahoma has had thousands of earthquakes in recent years, with nearly all traced to underground wastewater disposal. Some scientists say that the high-pressure injection of massive amounts of chemical-laced wastewater deep in the earth induces the quakes. Regulators have asked oil and gas producers to either close injection wells or reduce the volume of fluids they inject.

Two of the companies identified in the lawsuit, Eagle Road Oil, LLC and Cummings Oil Company, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday. The other 25 companies were not identified in the suit.

The lawsuit claims that companies are showing “reckless disregard for public or private safety,” by continuing to operate the injection wells in the area.

“We have clients who don’t allow their children to go upstairs because they’re afraid the roof will fall in on them,” said Curt Marshall, an attorney for the residents. “There’s a lot of fear; when is the next big one?”

Marshall estimated that hundreds of homes in Pawnee have been affected by the quakes, sustaining damage ranging from cracks in walls, foundations and storm shelters to short-circuited electrical outlets.

A 2015 study by the U.S. Geological Survey suggested that Oklahoma’s industrial activities, such as natural gas and oil production, have caused the sharp rise in earthquakes in the past 100 years.

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