In Oklahoma there has been a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes from 2009 through 2016. The U.S. Geological Survey made the connection between the earthquakes and fracking wastewater disposal as early as 2012. However, little action has been taken to date by the state of Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, other state officials, regulators and the oil and gas industry. This is not surprising because Oklahoma is fourth in oil production and third in natural gas production among U.S. states.
The demand for action by ordinary citizens is becoming louder, as they are becoming progressively more alarmed at the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, the resulting increased damage to their homes, the lack of action by officials, and the denial of coverage by insurance companies.
Drilling for oil and gas using the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, produces large amounts of waste fluids, which may include water, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals. The typical method of disposal is the use of injection wells. The well places waste fluid underground into porous geologic formations that range from deep sandstone or limestone to a shallow soil layer.
As of 2012, Oklahoma had 10,800 active injection/disposal wells. Studies have linked fracking wastewater disposal with the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Earthquake Activity Is Increasing
Before 2008, Oklahoma had barely any serious seismic activity. The state averaged one to two earthquakes of 3.0 or greater magnitude each year. However, beginning in 2009, Oklahoma saw a dramatic increase in the number of these earthquakes, from 20 in 2009 to more than 800 in 2015. Not coincidentally, this increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma is linked with an increase in the volume of fracking wastewater injected into injection wells.
The 2011 earthquake in Prague was the strongest ever felt in Oklahoma. It was followed in the next few days by two more tremors of 5.0 magnitude or greater, destroying half a dozen homes and damaging more than 170 others in the town. Scientists warn that without an abatement or moratorium on fracking wastewater disposal, Oklahoma could sustain more earthquakes of 5.0 to 6.0 in magnitude.
By the end of 2015, Oklahoma experienced 30 earthquakes in the 4.0 magnitude range. While media attention has focused on earthquakes exceeding a magnitude of 4.0, questions remain about the cumulative impact on homes, public buildings and infrastructure from the frequency of quakes below 4.0.
The earthquakes are continuing in 2016. Oklahoma City residents were awakened on January 1, 2016 with a 4.1 magnitude earthquake. Six days later, 4.3 and 4.8 magnitude earthquakes occurred back-to-back. Oklahoma has had 131 earthquakes from January 1 through 16, 2016 ranging in magnitude from 2.01 to 4.8.
Dormant 300 Million Year Old Fault Lines are Triggered
Long-dormant, 300-million-year-old fault lines across Oklahoma are ”reactivating,” according to Dan McNamara, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado.
Also, recent earthquakes are revealing previously undocumented fault lines, raising questions about how far-reaching the earthquakes’ impact can extend.There is also the question of whether the newly discovered fault lines connect with deeper faults, such as the Nemaha Ridge — which runs roughly parallel to I-35 from central Oklahoma to southern Kansas — or the Wilzetta Fault, which produced the magnitude 5.6 Prague earthquake.
OK State Government Oversight Responsibility
Unfortunately, last year the Oklahoma legislature passed Bill 809, which limited the ability of local governments to regulate oil and gas operations, preventing them from imposing a moratorium. The bill also reaffirmed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) as the state’s chief energy regulator.
Rep. Richard Morrissette, an Oklahoma City Democrat who voted against Bill 809, hosted a public forum on earthquakes on January 15, 2016 at the state Capitol. He listened intently to and interacted with many outraged Oklahomans, and challenged them to voice their complaints to Gov. Mary Fallin and their state representatives. Morrissette is calling for a moratorium on fracking wastewater disposal wells.
While seismologists warn that a magnitude 6.0 earthquake could be around the corner, Governor Fallin and the oil and gas industry appear to be aligned and bent on deflecting blame and delaying action. They continue to call for more data and study of the earthquakes’ cause, rather than taking any action to decrease or ban fracking wastewater injection.
Making matters worse, Governor Fallin denies that she can legally issue an executive order banning injection wells or issue a blanket moratorium on injection operations. Instead, her office points to the OCC as the commission tasked with regulating the wells.
Unfortunately, the OCC also denies that it has broad moratorium power. Indeed, following last year’s seismic activity, the OCC requested that operators of 27 disposal wells in the Fairview area voluntarily limit their volumes. Again, this was a request for voluntary reduction, not a mandatory moratorium.
However, Oklahoma residents are demanding action from government officials. Calls for a moratorium on the use of the injection wells are increasing.
Earthquake Insurance Coverage and Claims Processing Frustration
Residents of Oklahoma now face the previously unanticipated need for obtaining and paying for earthquake insurance. At the public forum held at the state Capitol, the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner, John Doak, told the group that state insurance companies do not offer earthquake insurance as part of the basic homeowner’s policy. It is generally sold as a separate endorsement.
Many citizens complained that earthquake insurance can be expensive and the deductibles can be high, from two to 10 percent of the home’s value, depending on the policy, making it infeasible for some homeowners to afford to repair earthquake damage.
Some attendees decried that certain insurance companies are refusing coverage for the earthquakes because they are deemed manmade, as opposed to natural, earthquakes, a tacit recognition by some in the insurance industry that the earthquakes are linked to fracking wastewater disposal. Several citizens complained that insurance companies have denied coverage while failing to inspect their homes after an earthquake.
Weitz & Luxenberg has joined with other law firms in prosecuting lawsuits in Oklahoma that seek recovery for property damage and personal injuries sustained from earthquakes caused by fracking wastewater injection. If you are a victim of these earthquakes, you may be entitled to recover damages. Please contact us today for a free consultation at 800-476-6070:
Learn more about the class action petition we have already filed.