In a federal class action lawsuit filed on November 17, residents of Pawnee, Oklahoma say energy companies are operating fracking-wastewater disposal wells even though they know it causes earthquakes.

Two energy companies were identified in the lawsuit — Eagle Road Oil, LLC and Cummings Oil Company. The rest were not named.

Curt Marshall, a lawyer representing the residents, estimated that hundreds of homes have been damaged in Pawnee, a town of about 2,200 residents.

He accused energy companies of acting with “reckless disregard for public or private safety” and said, “There’s a lot of fear; when is the next big one?”

On September 3, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit 9 miles north of Pawnee — the largest ever recorded in the state. It was slightly more powerful than a 5.7 magnitude quake that hit 50 miles south in 2011.

There have been 113 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in the state of Oklahoma since September 3, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Anything over magnitude 3.0 is strong enough to feel.

The last big one was on November 6 — a magnitude 5.0 earthquake hit 25 miles south of Pawnee, damaging dozens of buildings in a town near an oil-storage tank farm that held 58.5 million barrels of crude oil.

University of Tulsa, Oklahoma associate professor of geosciences Bryan Tapp explained that a newly-discovered 55-mile-long fault near Pawnee is critically stressed. He explained:

The longer a fault segment, the larger the potential earthquake. If it is a single continuous fault, it is fairly long. They key question is how much pent up energy is there along the fault.”

Oklahoma has had thousands of earthquakes in recent years, more than anywhere else in the world. They were uncommon before 2009, when the fracking boom hit.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a controversial method of extracting natural gas. Tens of millions of gallons of fresh water are mixed with undisclosed chemicals, pumped into shale deposits, sucked out along with the oil and gas, separated, and disposed in wells deep underground.

Source: Associated Press

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