Oklahoma High Court Says Fracking Companies Can Now Be Sued Over Quakes

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Oklahoma High Court Says Fracking Companies Can Now Be Sued Over Quakes

Decision on Tuesday by state's high court could mean extraction companies are open to future court battles over fracking-induced quakes

Oppenents of fracking hold a banner during the People's Climate March in 2014.  (Photo:  Light Brigading/flickr/cc)

Siding against the oil and gas industry, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a woman injured during an earthquake can sue the energy companies whose fracking activities she says are responsible.

As Tulsa World reported days ahead of the ruling, the decision could be precedent setting for other such claims in the state.

Prague, Oklahoma resident Sandra Ladra is seeking damages for injuries she suffered during the record 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the area in 2011. She claims that the tremor caused rocks from her chimney to fall, hurting her legs and knees, and resulting in damages over $75,000.

Ladra says that New Dominion LLC and Spess Oil Company, which operate injection wells in the area, were to blame, and sought damages from them in the district court. The energy companies countered that she couldn't do so because the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), which regulates the industry, was the body that had jurisdiction.

But the state supreme court sided with Ladra, finding that "Allowing district courts to have jurisdiction in these types of private matters does not exert inappropriate 'oversight and control' over the OCC."

"Rather, it conforms to the long-held rule that district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over private tort actions when regulated oil and gas operations are at issue," the opinion continues.

The ruling by the state's high court, as Reuters reports, reverses a 2014 decision when "A lower court ruled that the case had to go before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the regulator overseeing oil and gas, and dismissed Ladra's case in 2014."

As ThinkProgress' Emily Atkin points out, the new decision comes as the state experiences an uptick in seismic activity:

Right now, the state averages about 10 small earthquakes per day — on June 26, there were 25 quakes. The Oklahoma Geological Survey recognizes this is unprecedented, saying “[n]o documented cases of induced seismicity have ever come close to the current earthquake rates or the area over which the earthquakes are occurring.”

Ladra is not alone in linking the fracking injection wells to the tremors; U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey have also said that wastewater injection wells were "a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes."

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