Another lawsuit has been filed accusing energy companies of triggering earthquakes, this time filed by four people who own homes and businesses in the Cushing area.
The suit by Arkansas-based attorney Scott Poynter is among four suits currently pending in Oklahoma courts seeking damages from energy companies related to induced seismicity, or earthquakes triggered by wastewater injection. A fifth suit that was dismissed earlier is expected to be refiled.
The suit over damages from a 5.0 earthquake on Nov. 7th was filed by plaintiffs David and Myra Reid; Valerie Bryan and Timothy Harris. All live in the Cushing area.
Five energy companies have been named as defendants: White Star Petroleum LLC, of Oklahoma City; Crown Energy Company, of Oklahoma City; Petrowarrior LLC, of Broken Arrow; FHA Investments LLC, of Cushing; and Cher Oil Company Ltd., of Ripley.
The new suit and others like it filed by Poynter seek class-action status for other property owners whose homes or businesses have been damaged by the state’s frequent earthquakes. Before a case becomes a class-action lawsuit, a judge must approve the request by plaintiffs who brought the original suit.
The Reids own and operate the Cushing Citizen newspaper and the early-1900s downtown building where it is located. They live on the second floor of the building, which sustained damage including broken windows, cracks throughout the structure and bricks and stone missing from the exterior, the lawsuit claims.
Valerie Bryan also owns a historic commercial building in downtown Cushing, which she leases to another business. Bryan’s building sustained “cracks in structural supports, cracks in bricks and mortar, bricks fell to the ground, cracks on interior walls, and a sandstone wall has significant and possible structural damage.”
The suit alleges the damage was “all due to Defendants’ pollution of the environment through wastewater injections and the earthquakes they have caused.”
Harris’ home in Cushing sustained cracks in exterior and interior walls and damage to bricks and mortar, the suit claims.
The suit alleges that White Star operates wastewater disposal wells responsible for about 82 percent of the wastewater disposal injections within six miles of the Nov. 7 earthquake. The other four companies contribute the remaining percentage of wastewater, it states.
“By disposing of fracking wastewater deep into the earth, Defendants introduced contaminants into the natural environment that caused an adverse change to it in the form of unnatural seismic activity,” the suit states.
“In other words, due to Defendants’ pollution of the environment, they caused the man-made earthquakes at issue in this case.”
The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has skyrocketed since 2009, tracking with an increase during that time in disposal of wastewater generated by oil and gas drilling.
The state has about 3,200 operating disposal wells, where naturally occurring but toxic wastewater is injected deep underground. Scientific studies stretching back to the 1960s have linked such wells to “induced seismicity,” or earthquakes triggered by fluid injection.
As reported by EnergyWire, Bloomberg and other media outlets, the Oklahoma Geological Survey and its scientists were pressured to downplay connections between the state’s earthquakes and oil and gas activity.
Gov. Mary Fallin and other key state officials initially refused to acknowledge the scientific consensus. They have since agreed that wastewater injection is the culprit for the increasing number of quakes.
However, the state has so far refused to endorse a blanket moratorium on wastewater injection. Instead, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has moved to limit or stop injection into a particular geologic zone surrounding earthquake epicenters. The OCC regulates the energy industry and permits disposal wells.
Additionally, a committee on induced seismicity appointed by Fallin meets in secret and issues no public recommendations.