Oil Companies Ask Judge to Toss Federal Earthquake Lawsuit

  • Joe Wertz

Oklahoma oil and gas companies are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by members of an environmental group that seeks to reduce production waste that could be fueling a spike in earthquakes.

The lawsuit was filed under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in February by the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club. Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy and New Dominion have all asked the judge to dismiss the case, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

In separate legal filings, the three companies said the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is already taking action to reduce the volumes of wastewater in disposal wells.

“Through the efforts of the governor, the state legislature, the OCC and other state agencies, Oklahoma is in the midst of implementing a coherent, well-coordinated and comprehensive public policy to address seismicity,” Chesapeake said.

While the companies were responsible for about two-thirds of the wastewater injected in 2014, they said any injunction against them wouldn’t cover other operators who might also be contributing to induced seismicity.

The Sierra Club says the response by state regulators is not enough.

The group said it hasn’t had any opportunity to oppose permits because all the volume reductions so far have been voluntary.

“The OCC has not yet issued a mandatory order to reduce injection,” the Sierra Club said in its response to the motions to dismiss. “In addition, the voluntary directives issued to date have not stopped the earthquakes, or even reduced their frequency or intensity.”

The oil companies also argue that the lawsuit isn’t allowed under the RCRA, which allows citizens to file lawsuits over hazardous waste. The Sierra Club says the 1976 law “was intended to address a broad array of environmental issues. In any case, the group said, the courts were the proper venue to address its request for the companies to reinforce vulnerable structures that could be affected by large earthquakes, an area where the Corporation Commission has no jurisdiction,” Monies reports.