Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sierra Club Files Lawsuit over Earthquakes

On February 16, 2016, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma over the link between earthquakes and oil and gas waste disposal.  The suit named Chesapeake Operating, LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. LP, and New Dominion, LLC as defendants.

The suit was brought under the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), specifically 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B).  That specific section enables a citizen suit to be brought against “any person”, “including any past or present generator, past or present transporter, or past and present owner or operator of a treatment, storage, or disposal facility who has contributed or who is contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”

The Sierra Club contends that RCRA was violated by the aforementioned defendants because they disposed of liquid wastes related to oil and gas extraction activities and that the underground disposal of these liquids has contributed to increased seismicity in the State of Oklahoma.  The complaint states that “the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased more than 300 fold, from a maximum of 167 before 2009 to 5,838 in 2015.”  The Sierra Club also purports that “the number of magnitude 3.5 earthquakes has increased one hundred fold from 4 in 2009 to 220 in 2015.”  The plaintiff also alleges that a large number of earthquakes could be an indication that more severe earthquakes are likely.

The complaint seeks an injunction against the defendants by ordering them “to reduce immediately and substantially the amounts of Production Wastes they are injecting into the ground to levels that seismologists believe will not cause or contribute to increased earthquake frequency and severity.”  Additionally, the plaintiff requests that the court order the defendants to “reinforce vulnerable structures that current forecasts show could be impacted by large magnitude earthquakes during the interim period.”  Lastly, the plaintiff requests that the court order the establishment of an independent earthquake and monitoring prediction center to monitor seismicity.

Written by - Stephen Kenney
Research Assistant
Center for Agricultural and Shale Law

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