Weitz & Luxenberg has filed a lawsuit in Tribal Court on behalf of the Pawnee Nation over damages to tribe property caused by earthquakes that are linked to nearby fracking operations. Buildings affected by the earthquakes include those that were built nearly 100 years ago and several with important historic significance.
“For more than 90 years, these buildings have been a key part of Pawnee Nation, first as our schools and now as the home to our government,” said Andrew Knife Chief, executive director of the Pawnee Nation. “These earthquakes have put our heritage and tribe in jeopardy as we have been forced to leave some buildings and seen wall-length cracks form in others. These energy companies must recognize the direct impact of their actions on the livelihood of our tribe and must put an end to their dangerous activities.”
Several of the buildings that sustained damage from the earthquakes are on Oklahoma’s National Register of Historic Places. The affected buildings include the former Pawnee Indian School, which was used as a boarding house for Pawnee children after the tribe’s relocation from Nebraska. It is now the center of the tribe’s government operations.
“These Pawnee Tribe buildings have stood for almost a century, and now they are under threat, not from nature, but from humans,” said Curt Marshall, associate attorney in Weitz & Luxenberg’s Environmental Toxic Tort litigation unit. “The buildings are an important piece of Oklahoma history that must be protected. The cracks and damage that these fracking-related earthquakes have caused cannot be ignored, and the energy companies responsible must be held to account.”
The lawsuit alleges that the damage was a result of more than 53 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude and above that occurred in Pawnee between September and November 2016. The most significant of these earthquakes was of 5.8 magnitude — the largest in state history. State officials have agreed that fracking activities, specifically the operation of several nearby wastewater disposal wells, caused these earthquakes.
Weitz & Luxenberg has already filed several claims against companies responsible for these earthquakes, including a federal declaratory and injunctive claim under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In this claim, which the Pawnee Nation has joined, Weitz & Luxenberg is representing the Sierra Club and is seeking a declaration that these business practices are an imminent and substantial danger to public health and the environment, as well as an order requiring operators to immediately reduce the amount of wastewater being disposed of underground.
The lawsuit was filed in partnership with Poynter Law Group and Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson, PLLC and seeks compensation from two Oklahoma energy companies, Eagle Road Oil and Cummings Oil Company, and others.