Fracking-Induced Oklahoma Quakes Spawn New Class Case

Nov. 18, 2016, 6:58 PM

By Steven M. Sellers, Bloomberg BNA

Residents of Pawnee, Okla., the site of a powerful magnitude 5.8 earthquake over Labor Day weekend, filed a class complaint against oil and gas companies Nov. 17.

The complaint, filed in Oklahoma District Court, Pawnee County, seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Eagle Road Oil LLC, Cummings Oil Co. and other unnamed defendants for damage to homes and personal property.

James Adams and other plaintiffs claim the injection of wastewater from oil and gas operations into deep wells near Pawnee caused a series of earthquakes, including the Sept. 3 quake, the largest in the state’s history.

Eagle Road and Cummings “were by far the biggest polluters in the area, having dumped hundreds of thousands of barrels of waste per month over past year,” Scott Poynter, of Poynter Law Group in Little Rock, Ark., told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 18. Poynter represents Adams.

Eagle Road Oil, based in Tulsa, Okla., is an affiliate of Jericho Oil Corp. Cummings Oil Co. is based in Oklahoma City.

Requests for comment sent to all three companies didn’t receive an immediate reply.

Poynter said other companies may be added as defendants as evidence is developed in the case.

The complaint contends the drilling operations near Pawnee were negligent and constituted an “ultrahazardous activity” for which Eagle Road and Cummings should be held strictly liable.

The claimed damages include real and personal property losses, market devaluation and emotional distress.

Poynter said in an e-mail that Adams, the named plaintiff, has “large cracks” in the sheetrock, brick and mortar of his home, and that “hundreds” of other structures in the area sustained similar damage.

A related earthquake case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, where a Sierra Club suit challenges fracking operations in Oklahoma (Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, W.D. Okla., No. 16-cv-00134, filed 2/16/16).

The complaint in that case, filed in February, claims that fracking and other underground oil and gas activities pose imminent risks to the environment. Four oil and gas companies are named as defendants in the citizen suit filed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law governing solid waste disposal.

Oklahoma experienced a surge in earthquakes beginning in 2009. The state recorded 167 temblors that year, increasing to 5,838 last year, according to data from the Oklahoma Geological Survey. A magnitude 5 quake struck Oklahoma Nov. 7. That quake was centered near Cushing, the site of a huge oil storage facility.

Poynter Law Group, as well as Weitz & Luxenberg and Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson represent James Adams and other plaintiffs.

The case is: Adams v. Eagle Road Oil LLC, Okla. Dist. Ct., No. CJ-2016-78, filed 11/17/16

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