In a new approach to challenging fracking, the legal group Public Justice and the Sierra Club on Monday jointly filed a "notice of intent to sue" four companies that engage in the practice of hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma: Sandridge Exploration and Production, New Dominion, Chesapeake Operating and Devon Energy Production Company. The notice contends that the waste fluids the companies inject back into the ground is causing a dramatic increase in seismic activity and gives the companies 90 days to adjust their practices. As the chart below shows, prior to 2009, Oklahoma had experienced a record high 167 earthquakes in 1995; last year 5,000 earthquakes were reported, and an even higher rate is projected for 2015.
From the press release:
“Since late 2009,” the groups note in their letter, “the rate of magnitude-3 or larger earthquakes in north-central Oklahoma has been nearly 300 times higher than in previous decades.” The letter also notes that “Overlaying the locations of Defendants’ wells onto the places where earthquakes above magnitude 3.5 have been felt shows that earthquakes are occurring in the vicinity of the Defendants’ wells or along fault lines that are close to the wells.”
Public Justice executive director Paul Bland explains that the suit represents a completely new approach to using the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as a way to combat fracking. RCRA has typically been used to prosecute cases where companies dump pollutants into water supplies. But Public Justice has successfully used the law to go after a broader set of environmental issues as it is now doing in Oklahoma. Bland says the group is looking for a “precedent-setting” court ruling that finds “the handling of solid wastes is increasing the number and severity of earthquakes.”