Written by Chloe Marie – Research Fellow
This article provides an overview of recent legal developments relating to induced seismicity damage claims in the United States. This article is the second in a series that will look at select cases addressing this issue. The first article in this series was published on July 18, 2018.
Griggs et al. v. New Dominion, LLC et al.,in the District Court of Logan County, Oklahoma (Docket Nos. CJ-16-6 & No. CJ-17-00174)
On January 12, 2016, two residents of Logan County, Oklahoma, filed a petition seeking class action status in their suits against Chesapeake Operating LLC, New Dominion LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. LP, and Sandridge Exploration and Production, LLC. Both plaintiffs reported significant property damages caused by several earthquakes beginning in 2014, claiming that they are the consequences of wastewater injection disposal activities operated by all defendants within the Arbuckle formation. Plaintiffs asserted claims of private nuisance, negligence and trespass, contending that defendants are engaged in “ultra-hazardous activities that involve a high degree of risk of serious harm to a person or the chattels of others, the risk cannot be eliminated by exercising the utmost care, and is not a matter of common usage.” Consequently, plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.
The case was removed to federal court on February 16, 2016. Plaintiffs sought to have the case returned to state court, but the court denied plaintiffs’ motion to remand on June 30, 2016. Plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed all of their claims without prejudice on July 21, 2016. One year later, on July 21, 2017, Lisa Griggs and April Marler again filed a class action petition against New Dominion LLC and several other companies. This case remains pending.
Felts et al. v. Devon Energy Production Company, LP et al., in the District Court of Logan County, Oklahoma (Docket No. CJ-16-137)
On January 11, 2016, Terry and Deborah Felt, joined by other county residents, filed a lawsuit against Devon Energy Production Company LP, New Dominion LLC and several other companies arguing a “reckless disregard” of risks associated with their wastewater disposal activities. Plaintiffs claimed that defendants “knew or should have known” that such activities “would result in an increased likelihood that earthquakes or other adverse environmental impacts would occur, thereby unreasonably endangering the health, safety and welfare of persons and property, including Plaintiffs and others.”
More precisely, plaintiffs referred to the occurrence of a series of earthquakes in the area on December 29, 2015, and January 1, 2016, and alleged that they had suffered considerable physical and property damages. Plaintiffs thus asserted claims of negligence, strict liability, and ultra-hazardous activity and requested permanent injunctive relief preventing defendants from causing additional harm to the resident community in addition to seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Several motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims were filed in March 2016. The court granted in part, and denied in part, Devon Energy’s motion to dismiss. Subsequently, the Meadowbrook Oil Corporation moved for summary judgment on April 23, 2018. The case remains pending.
West et al. v. ABC Oil Company, Inc. et al., in the District Court of Pottowatomie County, Oklahoma (Docket No. CJ-16-49) and in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (Docket No. 5:16-cv-00264)
On February 18, 2016, two property owners in Pottowatomie County, Lisa West and Stormy Hopson, filed a petition seeking bilateral class action status as well as recovery of the future costs for earthquake insurance policies necessitated by the occurrence of several induced earthquakes. The two property owners alleged that ABC Oil Company, along with other energy companies engaged in wastewater injection activities, are responsible for an increase in earthquake insurance premiums.
On April 7, 2016, the case was removed to federal court and multiple motions to dismiss have been filed by defendants since that time.
Lene v. Chesapeake Operating, LLC et al., in the District Court of Logan County, Oklahoma (Docket No. CJ-16-27)
On February 12, 2016, Brenda and Jon Lene, residents of Logan County, filed a lawsuit against Chesapeake Operating LLC, New Dominion LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. LP, Sandridge Exploration and Production LLC, and several other unnamed entities – all of which are involved in wastewater disposal operations – alleging personal and property damages due to induced Piearthquakes caused by said operations. Plaintiffs asserted claims of private nuisance, ultra-hazardous activity, negligence, and trespass to support its request for compensatory and punitive damages.
On July 20, 2016, plaintiffs moved to voluntarily dismiss all of their claims without prejudice to refiling and the case is now considered to be closed.
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma v. Eagle Road Oil LLC et al., in the District Court of the Pawnee Nation (Docket No. CIU-17-003)
On March 3, 2017, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against Eagle Road Oil LLC, Cummings Oil Company, and several unmanned entities engaged in hydraulic fracturing wastewater injection activities. Plaintiff argued that it suffered property damage to its historic governmental buildings because of defendants’ activities, which induced seismic activity in Oklahoma beginning in September 2016. Plaintiff pointed out that “these structures are more than a century old, appear on a national historic registry, and today are used daily by the Nation for its administrative, educational and cultural purposes” and asserted claims for absolute liability, negligence, private nuisance, and trespass. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The case remains pending.