Can Energy Companies Be Sued for Causing Earthquakes?
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UPDATED: Jan 20, 2016
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Is it possible to sue a company for causing an earthquake? A number of judges around the country are pondering that question. More are likely to do so in the coming years.
One of the key earthquake lawsuits is pending in the town of Prague, Oklahoma. Sandra Ladra was injured when an earthquake caused a fireplace chimney to collapse on her legs. She sued two oil and gas companies that operate injection wells near Prague, claiming that the disposal of wastewater after “fracking” was responsible for the earthquake that caused her injury.
A judge initially dismissed
The Controversial Practice of Fracking
Hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is a process that injects large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals into drilling sites under high pressure in order to release oil and gas by cracking rocks. The process creates wastewater. Injecting the wastewater into underground disposal wells is the most cost-effective way to dispose of it.
Fracking itself does not generally cause earthquakes, but a strong body of evidence suggests that the wastewater disposal process does. Researchers say they have found definitive links between disposal wells and earthquakes, particularly in Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma.
States that have historically experienced little seismic activity, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio, have seen a dramatic increase in earthquakes in recent years. The increase corresponds to rapid shale oil and gas development in those states. Across the nation over the last three decades, 21 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude have occurred in an average year. Between 2010 and 2013, there were more than 300 earthquakes of that magnitude.
Most earthquakes that have been associated with wastewater disposal after fracking are below 3.0 magnitude. Earthquakes generally do not cause damage until they reach 4.0 magnitude. Scientists are concerned, however, that the earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal are growing in both number and strength.
Sandra Ladra was watching television in 2011 when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake shook her home, causing the rock facing to fall from her fireplace. The falling rocks caused significant damage to
Having lost its motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear it, the oil companies are now moving to dismiss on the ground that
Other Earthquake Lawsuits
Scores of lawsuits around the nation have accused companies of polluting groundwater by their use of fracking. Lawsuits alleging that energy companies caused an earthquake are a fairly recent addition to the growing list of claims for compensation arising from fracking.
Should Companies Be Held Responsible for Earthquakes?
Energy company executives are complaining that “lawsuits such as