Earthquakes, Fracking, Disposal Wells … and Litigation by Steven M. Sellars, April 29, 2016, Toxics Law Reporter
A rapid rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states, linked by some [Some? Is Bloomberg trying to trivialize the life threatening problem? Refer below] scientists to wells injected with waste water from fracking and other oil and gas drilling operations, is fueling litigation over the industry’s liability for the seismic events. But the cases face obstacles, lawyers and academics tell Bloomberg BNA.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers say tort suits alleging induced earthquakes will be buoyed by a recent one-year seismic hazard forecast issued by the U.S. Geological Service in March. The forecast, which follows a multi-year earthquake rise in several states, warns of damage risks within the coming year from natural and induced seismicity in parts of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Defense lawyers, however, say [data proves otherwise!] this and other scientific studies suggest only a “weak” connection between waste disposal wells and man-made or so called “induced” earthquakes—and that plaintiffs will have a tough time proving any damage was caused by a particular well or operator. [Is this how the courts and companies plan to enable the disastrous quake harms caused directly and indirectly by the oil and gas industry?]
The disposal wells are drilled deep underground to deposit fluids—largely saltwater and “flowback”—produced in oil and gas extraction operations.
The crux of the debate, both legally and geologically, turns on whether and how the volume and pressure of injected fluids, particularly in areas with geological faults, may be linked to earthquakes that inflict specific damage above the ground.
Bloomberg Image enhanced showing where companies are intentionally fracturing in Canada.
Science, Causation Debated
Plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Poynter, of the Poynter Law Group in Little Rock, Ark., told Bloomberg BNA recently the USGS report will strengthen cases against injection well operators for induced earthquakes.
Poynter is counsel in several pending cases over damage allegedly caused by induced earthquakes, including Ladra v. New Dominion LLC, No. CJ-2014-00115, Okla. Dist. Ct., filed 8/4/2014.
In Ladra, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last year that earthquake damages allegedly caused by injection wells must be decided in a trial court, not a state commission that oversees oil and gas operations [where the plaintiff would surely have lost?] (, 353 P.3d 529 (Okla. 2015)).
Lawyers for the oil and gas companies sued by Ms. Ladra — the Spess Oil Company and New Dominion — did not return phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday. But during a court hearing in October, they warned a state judge that juries siding with plaintiffs in cases like this one would invite economic catastrophe.
If the companies are held liable at trial, “these wells will become economic and legal liability pariahs,” said Robert G. Gum, a lawyer for New Dominion. “They will be shut down.”
When the lawsuits were filed, top officials in Oklahoma were steadfastly insisting that the link between quakes and disposal wells was not clear. But in April, state leaders did an unexpected about-face and embraced the scientific consensus. They even created a website that cited a determination by the state’s geological survey that “the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered” by wastewater disposal wells.
Many in the industry, however, maintain that claims of a clear connection require more study. [Does industry and it’s enabling experts like Dr. John Cherry keep asking for more study as a delay ploy to let the harms continue unabated?]
According to Mr. Poynter, industry officials have been busy seeking protections from the Oklahoma Legislature, successfully winning passage of a law that restricts municipalities from regulating oil and gas wells within their jurisdiction.
He also said the industry had tried — but so far failed — to win passage of another law requiring a state-approved expert to first certify any lawsuits over wastewater-induced quakes.
“In other words, it was going to be the industry picking the experts,” Mr. Poynter said, calling it one of a number of proposals “designed to stymie our litigation or make it as difficult as possible for homeowners with earthquake damage to bring suit.”
Kim Hatfield, president of Crawley Petroleum, which operates in Oklahoma and Texas, said the ramifications of lawsuits such as Ladra’s could weaken the energy industry in Oklahoma and have devastating economic consequences.
“Are you familiar with ‘The Grapes of Wrath’? This would make that look like a comedy,” Hatfield said. “That would be a self-inflicted wound of tremendous magnitude for the state, and oil companies will say, ‘We’re not going to drill in Oklahoma.’
“It would be a tragedy of just monumental proportions,” he said.
End Cross Check]
Pretrial proceedings in the case are underway at the trial court level, according to court records.
“I think [the USGS report] is going to be very helpful, and I think it’s a document that would be at the forefront of all of the cases and the experts that testify,” Poynter said.
But defense attorney Daniel McClure, of Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston, told Bloomberg BNA the science doesn’t establish a clear causal connection between injection wells and seismicity. [To win lawsuits, plaintiffs don’t need to prove 100% connection (that’s only in criminal cases, like Duffy’s for example), they only need to prove to 51% balance of probabilities]
McClure represented an oil and gas industry client against landowner claims, now dismissed, that property damage from an earthquake was caused by a wastewater disposal well in Texas.
“There is no valid scientific evidence that fracking causes seismic events or earthquakes,” [How much has changed since he got those cases dismissed for industry?] McClure said April 20 in an e-mail. “The scientific studies have suggested only a weak relationship between seismic events and wastewater disposal wells, and wastewater is a by-product of many oil and gas wells, not unique to fracking.”
Plaintiffs will have a “huge hurdle” to prove causation and will be hard-pressed to prove any particular earthquake [Refer below regarding insurance companies denying coverage for this same reason] was caused by wastewater and saltwater disposal wells generally, McClure said.
“Many earthquakes occur naturally where no disposal wells are located; many areas thick with disposal wells experience no earthquakes,” McClure said. “Second, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for plaintiffs to prove that any particular wastewater injection well in a field, and any particular operator, caused the particular earthquake event.”
Injection Wells at Issue
The USGS, in its March report, said that “[e]arthquake rates have recently increased markedly in multiple areas of the Central and Eastern United States, especially since 2010, and scientific studies have linked the majority of this increased activity to wastewater injection in deep disposal wells.”
The Eastern and Central U.S. averaged 21 magnitude three (or stronger) earthquakes from 1973 to 2008, according to the USGS Induced Earthquakes website. That rate jumped to 99 per year between 2009 and 2013 and continues to rise.
Magnitude 3 quakes are typically felt by people in the affected area, but seldom cause damage, according to the USGS. But larger earthquakes in 2011, such as a magnitude 5.6 in Prague, Okla., and a 5.3 in Trinidad Colo., did result in damage reports.
Those in the oil and gas industry however, says the USGS report is of limited value.
Any correlation between seismic events and water injection doesn’t establish a given well caused a quake, Steven Everley, a senior advisor to Energy in Depth, told Bloomberg BNA.
Energy in Depth is a Washington, D.C.-based organization launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 2009.
“The fact that water injection—be it related to oil and gas or otherwise—can induce seismic events has been known for at least half a century,” Everley said in an e-mail.
“In Oklahoma, scientists have determined that at least some of the seismic activity is due to wastewater injection,” said Everley. “But Oklahoma is also a heavily faulted state, with oil and gas production activities in 70 out of its 77 counties. Does that mean every earthquake in Oklahoma is induced or triggered by injection? Certainly not.”
Everley also said that the number of injection wells potentially linked to earthquakes is “incredibly small.”
In North Dakota and Louisiana, which have numerous injection wells, “there’s no uptick in earthquake activity in either state,” he said.
More research is needed to better understand how to distinguish natural and potentially induced earthquakes, Everley said.
The USGS acknowledged in its March forecast that “a lack of relevant technical information on the geological condition, state of stress, and human industrial activity (such as injection well pumping data) makes it difficult to assess seismic hazard.”
Follow the Fault Line
For his part, Poynter, the plaintiffs’ attorney, acknowledges the evidentiary and geological questions inherent in induced seismicity claims. Answers may be found the closer injection wells are to seismic events, Poynter said (30 TXLR 905, 9/17/15).
“It’s not just the injection well that can create a problem,” Poynter said. “You need an injection well that’s over a fault to create the earthquake. Just because there’s an injection well doesn’t mean that down the road there’s going to be an earthquake. You need a fault line.”
Those and other questions will be addressed in litigation by expert witness testimony, Poynter said. “In putting together a case, my experts are going to be relying on the science that relates to that particular cluster of earthquakes.”
The spate of recent earthquakes has also spurred the general public—and presumably juries—to view injection wells with a more critical eye, according to Poynter.
“I think the pendulum has swung in the other direction so that now there’s just a lot more people who have swung in our favor, who agree that the earthquakes are related to the injection wells,” he said.
The leading edge of litigation may be in an environmental citizen suit recently filed by the Sierra Club against Chesapeake Operating LLC and other defendants in the Western District of Oklahoma alleging violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, W.D. Okla., No. 16-cv-00134, filed 2/16/16).
The suit alleges imminent harm to health and the environment posed by injection wells in Oklahoma, a state dotted with about 3,200 injection wells (31 TXLR 349, 4/14/16).
The earthquake risk is aggravated by the location of a major oil tank farm in Cushing, Okla., a facility that holds millions of barrels of crude oil for distribution, according to an amended complaint recently filed by Poynter and other lawyers in the case.
Blake Watson, a professor at the University of Dayton Law School in Ohio, who writes extensively on litigation involving hydraulic fracturing, told Bloomberg BNA the USGS one-year forecast may be more helpful to the Sierra Club case than landowner cases.
“That, to my mind, is probably more helpful in their lawsuit than perhaps it would be in suits filed by landowners seeking damages,” said Watson.
That’s because, Watson said, “I think the standard that the Sierra Club is going to have to meet under its federal lawsuit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is in some respects a less stringent standard than the common law tort causation standards that attach to negligence, nuisance and strict liability.”
The Sierra Club complaint alleges in part that “if a large earthquake struck the massive oil storage area in Cushing, huge amounts of oil could be released, causing massive environmental damage”.
RCRA cases require proof that the owner or operator of a facility handled, stored, treated, transported or disposed “of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment” (42 U.S.C. §6972(a)(1)(B)).
Chesapeake and other defendants moved to dismiss the case April 25.
Their arguments include that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has jurisdiction over the state’s disposal wells and that RCRA wasn’t intended to address environmental threats resulting from seismicity.
The Sierra Club’s reply to the motion is pending, according to court records.
Even if gas and oil companies prevail in environmental and tort litigation over injection wells and their alleged link to earthquakes, Watson said he still sees a downside for the energy industry.
“It is the plaintiff’s burden to establish causation, but the more these cases are litigated, the more pressure it puts on the oil and gas industry to respond to this problem,” Watson said.
Pending Cases Involving Induced Quake Claims
- Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, No. 16-cv-00134 (W.D. Okla. filed 2/16/2016) (RCRA citizen suit alleging threatened environmental harm posed by injection well operations in Oklahoma)
- Cooper v. New Dominion LLC, No. CJ-2015-24 (Okla. Dist. Ct., Lincoln Cty. filed 2/10/2015) (proposed class action for property damage from earthquake allegedly caused by injection wells)
- Ladra v. New Dominion LLC, No. CJ-2014-00115 (Okla. Dist. Ct., Lincoln Cty. filed 8/4/2014, remanded in 353 P.3d 529 (Okla. 2015))(personal injuries alleged from chimney that collapsed from earthquake)
- Griggs v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, No. 16-cv-00138 (W.D. Okla. removed 2/16/2016) (proposed landowner class action for earthquake property damage)
- Felts v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, No. CJ-2016-137 (Okla. Dist. Ct., Okla. Cty. filed 1/11/2016) (plaintiffs allege injection of waste water into wells caused two earthquakes)
- Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Env’t v. Jewell, No. 15-cv-00209 (D.N.M. filed 3/11/2015) (injunction action alleging dangers of fracking and drilling operations, including earthquakes) [Emphasis added]
Do fracking activities cause earthquakes? Seismologists and the state of Oklahoma say yes Earthquakes increasing in volume and intensity around fracking and waste disposal sites by Terry Reith and Briar Stewart, April 28, 2016, CBC News
Oklahoma oil and gas regulator Tim Baker on what led the state to take action 1:00
In the heartland of Oklahoma sits a pretty town dotted with American flags and a quaint main street of century-old brick buildings. But in Guthrie, the devastating impact of oil-industry-induced earthquakes is being felt hard.
Look closely and you see cracks in the historic buildings, where the old masonry is giving way to a shifting ground. Guthrie has seen a wave of earthquakes since hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — picked up in the area.
- Cracked walls, crumbling brickwork: the legacy of fracking in Oklahoma
- PHOTOS | Oklahoma earthquake damage
There’s no denial from the Oklahoma government or seismologists from 20 countries who met in Reno, Nev., last week that practices related to fracking are behind the swarms of earthquakes that have increased in volume and intensity since 2011.
“There’s definitely a relationship between deep well disposal and the earthquake activity,” the state’s oil and gas regulator, Tim Baker, said in an interview with CBC News, referring to the practice of injecting fracking waste water deep into the ground.
At the Reno meeting, seismologists from Canada also warned that fracking in Alberta and British Columbia could bring similar consequences.
“In Western Canada, most of the seismicity we’re experiencing is being actually directly related to hydraulic fracturing,” says Gail Atkinson, a specialist in induced seismicity from Western University in London, Ont.
While there’s been little noticeable damage in Canada so far, she warns it could happen.
“I think damage is a function of getting the wrong ground motions in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Atkinson helped chair a day-long session on the impacts of fracking and earthquakes at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America. She also presented her own Canadian research.
She says smaller earthquakes shouldn’t be ignored because they can lead to larger, more destructive ones.
“For every 100 magnitude three earthquakes, you’ll get 10 of magnitude four and one magnitude five,” she says. “The higher the rate of seismicity, the greater likelihood you’ll trigger at least one large event.”
- VIDEO | Seismologist Gail Atkinson on the risks of industry induced earthquakes
- VIDEO | Oklahoma oil and gas regulator Tim Baker on what led the state to take action
In Alberta’s Fox Creek area, there were 367 tremors measured in 2015, according to Alberta’s Energy Regulator. Most of them were under magnitude three, but a magnitude 4.4 hit in January 2015, and an even stronger magnitude 4.6 shook the area in January 2016.
After that, the regulator shut down a nearby fracking operation. It has now restarted.
AER allows Repsol to resume fracking after causing world record 4.8M frac quake (felt 280 km away near Edmonton) in AER’s Fox Creek Blanket Approval Frac Frenzy Free-for-All Experiment. But, Repsol appears too shaken to resume ]
Atkinson says it’s wise for Canada to pay attention to what’s happening in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma experience
Oklahoma, like Alberta, is oil country. The landscape is dotted with huge pumpjacks and sites where waste water from fracking is injected deep into the ground.
The petroleum industry also fuels local economies and the state government. For the longest time, it was easy to ignore a growing body of science and ever-increasing damage that was being caused by the industry. But now it’s serious — and the denial is over. [After damages to thousands already done]
“For us to ignore this problem, or industry to ignore this problem — that wasn’t an option,” said Baker, adding industry has also acknowledged the problem and is working on solutions.
“They want this problem to go away as bad as anybody else does because it’s a black eye for them as well.”
Baker describes the task ahead of him as “Herculean.”
He says that earthquakes caused by the oil and gas industry threaten not just homes and residential buildings, but critical infrastructure like the oil terminal at Cushing, which is the largest pipeline and oil storage facility in the United States.
“We started having earthquakes in the Cushing area,” Baker said, “so there is concern.”
It happened in 2014 when a new injection well opened near the town. There was enough concern that the well was shut down and the earthquakes stopped.
When new wells were drilled, the earthquakes started again. When three of them were capped, the earthquakes subsided, but not entirely.
Based on its observations at Cushing, the state felt that simply modifying the wells and shutting down those that were considered too deep would be a solution. About 200 of the deeper wells were plugged.
Baker says there was “some success, but it was measured. It wasn’t enough to solve the problem.”
Now the state is phasing in a plan that will reduce the amount of waste water injected into more than 600 wells by up to 40 per cent.
The plan is in its early stages and earthquakes in Oklahoma are down, according to Baker, but he admits it’s hard to determine if that’s because of regulation or the fact the downturn in oil prices has curtailed drilling substantially.
The meeting in Reno last week drew nearly 700 seismologists and other experts from government, academia and industry.
During a full-day session on induced earthquakes, 29 scientists presented new research in a series of 15-minute oral presentations, while 35 researchers presented new findings in poster presentations.
The cumulative volume of research leaves little doubt about the link between fracking and earthquakes. One point of debate that did emerge is the significant difference between how the quakes are caused in Canada and the U.S.
In Oklahoma, the earthquakes are blamed on the industry practice of injecting waste water from oil production into wells dug deep into the ground. This causes changes in underground pressure and deep underground faults to slip, resulting in earthquakes.
In Canada, the direct action of fracking is blamed, as less water is used and injected back into the ground.
University of Calgary seismologist David Eaton says in the past six years, 90 per cent of earthquakes larger than magnitude three taking place in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin can be linked to fracking or waste water disposal. The vast majority — 62 per cent — are directly linked to fracking.
He believes that like those in Oklahoma, the earthquakes are being caused by changes in pressure underground.
Atkinson believes part of the difference between Canadian and U.S. quakes can be attributed to different geology.
“There’s evidence that the types of formations that are being explored have differences that would explain why hydraulic fracturing is so much more likely to induce seismicity in Western Canada than it is in Oklahoma.”
Another key difference is the earthquakes in Canada have so far caused very little damage.
Part of the reason may be that the larger Canadian quakes have happened in largely isolated areas, where the Oklahoma quakes have affected highly populated areas.
Atkinson warns that Canadians shouldn’t get complacent.
“As much as it would be nice to say we’ve had magnitude four and a half earthquakes in Western Canada and we haven’t seen any damage yet and therefore we’ll never see any damage, I don’t think you can reach that conclusion.”
Canadian researchers are now turning their sights toward learning how to better predict which fracking operations might cause earthquakes.
“The first level of mitigation is avoidance. So if we know that there’s a problem and we can map areas where it’s more problematic … then what we need to do is design strategies that would minimize risk within those areas,” says Eaton.
Putting an end to fracking isn’t on the table on either side of the border. Regulators in Oklahoma, B.C. and Alberta are instead looking toward regulations and changing industry practices as a means to mitigate the damage. [ Looking towards more deregulation and escape hatches (eg voluntary best practices & guidelines) to enable the quake harms?
But no one really knows if that will help stop the shaking, and no one even knows whether an end to fracking altogether would be enough to completely stop the earthquakes.
This story originally reported that In Oklahoma, a number of earthquakes have been blamed on the industry practice of injecting waste water from fracking operations into wells dug deep into the ground. In fact, they are blamed on the injection of waste water from oil production into wells.
Apr 28, 2016 8:08 AM MT
This story originally quoted University of Calgary seismologist David Eaton saying that in the past six years, 90 per cent of earthquakes larger than magnitude three taking place in Western Canada can be linked to fracking or waste water disposal. He was actually referring to earthquakes in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. [Emphasis added]
A few of the comments (listed under newest):
Earthquakes can be induced by dams. Globally, there are over 100 identified cases of earthquakes that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs (see Gupta 2002). The most serious case may be the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people and has been linked to the construction of the Zipingpu Dam.
- Alberta Neighbour @AlbertaGuy
One hundred identified earthquakes from dams, wow.
Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission: “When we call up OGS (Oklahoma Geological Survey), and they can’t get their computers to come up, that’s a problem.”
Austin Holland, Oklahoma Geological Survey – “Last year we recorded, or were actually able to locate more than 5000 earthquakes and we probably had another 10,000 that our systems have identified, that we didn’t have a chance to look at.”
Reporter: “In August, Austin Holland resigned as head seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, we were with him on his last day.
… Holland leaves behind a state in which the earthquake rate continues to rise. Not long after he announced his departure, his colleague, Amber Lee Darold, did the same. Now Oklahoma, the most seismically active state in the continental US, is left without a state seismologist.”
“The most serious case may be the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people”
So then I guess it would make sense to frac the hell out of them.
“Villagers said that employees at the time told them that eight workers died when the rig exploded that night. Sinopec officials and village leaders then ordered residents not to discuss the event, according to the villagers.
Now villagers complain of fouled streams and polluted fields.
‘There was a huge ball of fire,’ said Liu Jiazhen, a mustard greens farmer with three children who lives a five-minute walk from the site. ‘The managers here all raced for their lives up the hill.'”
“While there’s been little noticeable damage in Canada so far, she warns it could happen.”
It is happening. And people are noticing it.
Blown out windows, cracked foundations, bouncing decks, buckled outbuildings, “a number of water main breaks,” and “strange liquids coming out of the ground,” from one end of Alberta to the other.
And that squares with the BC OGC’s senior petroleum geologist’s warnings:
“A recent presentation by Dan Walker, senior petroleum geologist for the BC Oil and Gas Commission, identified public safety, property damage, well bore integrity (the shaking can cause wells to leak methane) and aquifer contamination as genuine hazards from industry quakes.
… In addition to the need for comprehensive seismic monitoring and event reporting, Walker said one of the key lessons learned to date was that ‘areas considered to be high risk for induced seismicity should be considered for exclusion from development.'”
We had a company interested in fracking in our city [Lethbridge?]. We chased them away. They wanted to do it near a lot of housing development. Our city has so many old underground mines and tunnels that it would be a recipe for disaster.
“‘For us to ignore this problem, or industry to ignore this problem — that wasn’t an option,’ said Baker, adding industry has also acknowledged the problem and is working on solutions.”
Yeah, too little too late.
As the industry quakes continue to grow in Oklahoma and Alberta, both in intensity and frequency, scientists are now warning – we have no control.
“To many Oklahomans, it is clear that that risk has risen sharply. Data backs up their experiences. The earthquake rate in the state has grown at an astounding pace. In 2013 the state recorded 109 quakes of magnitude 3 and greater. The following year the number jumped to 585, and in 2015 it reached 890.
The escalation prompted two unusual warnings jointly issued by the USGS and the OGS in October 2013 and May 2014. Seismologists stated that Oklahoma had a significantly increased chance of seeing a damaging magnitude 5.5 temblor. ‘It was the first time I think we’d ever issued an earthquake advisory east of the Rockies,’ says Robert Williams, the USGS central and eastern U.S. coordinator for earthquake hazards.
… Even if Oklahoma shut down all its wells today, many experts say the quakes would continue. ‘We’re trying to calculate how much energy is in the system right now and how long it may continue on—and at the current earthquake rate the numbers are very big,’ says Daniel McNamara, a seismologist at the USGS Geologic Hazards Science Center in Golden, Colo.
Pressed for details, he paused. Then he added: ‘It’s hundreds of years.'”
@Alberta Neighbour : Oklahomans live in an area of the country where there is a reasonable probability that during any given spring their house could be wiped off the face of the earth – and there is nothing they can do about it – except not live there. The risk from fracking is minor by comparison. And fracking offers jobs and good money, allowing the Oklahomans to continue to live where they have chosen.
Again, it is all about risk vs. reward. You apparently are not equipped to make that call, because you put some strange abstract ideal like “preserving Gaia” or some such nonsense ahead of reality.
“Oklahomans live in an area of the country where there is a reasonable probability that during any given spring their house could be wiped off the face of the earth”
Well, now they live in an area of the country where there is a reasonable probability that at any given time (all year round, not just in the spring), their houses, businesses, schools, hospitals, police stations, fire departments, churches, etc. could be wiped off the face of the earth.
I would imagine “hundreds of years” of that, as well as the damages they’re already dealing with, are going to take a toll on people, job or no job.
Well, I guess they get both.
“When Jon Sinon left California in 2002 for a new life in Oklahoma he thought he was trading earthquakes for tornados. ‘Now I got both.’ he says.
He purchased one of the historic brick buildings on the main street of Guthrie, Okla. and opened a shop on the main floor. After a succession of earthquakes there are gaping cracks in the brickwork, and a broken granite arch hangs perilously. There is also a crack through the building’s granite nameplate…
Cracked walls, crumbling brickwork: The legacy of fracking in Oklahoma, Since 2011 the state has seen a dramatic rise in the scope and intensity of earthquakes by Terry Reith and Briar Stewart, April 28, 2016, CBC News
When Jon Sinon left California in 2002 for a new life in Oklahoma he thought he was trading earthquakes for tornados. “Now I got both.” he says.
He purchased one of the historic brick buildings on the main street of Guthrie, Okla. and opened a shop on the main floor. After a succession of earthquakes there are gaping cracks in the brickwork, and a broken granite arch hangs perilously. There is also a crack through the building’s granite nameplate “Oklahoma.”
- Do fracking activities cause earthquakes? Seismologists and the state of Oklahoma say yes
- PHOTOS | Earthquake damage in Oklahoma
He says most of the damage happened earlier this year when a magnitude 5.1 quake struck the area.
“You can look at a lot of the brick here in this building is actually starting to pull away. If it falls down I’m in a lot of trouble, I don’t know what to do with it. If you can’t fix it you can’t replace it. It was built in 1901 and it is on the historical registry,” he says.
Owning the million-dollar building was his dream come true. Now he’s consumed with worry. “It can fall down and I’ll be out a lot of money. And we’re going to lose a historical place.”
He says earthquake insurance was too limited and too expensive to purchase.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of stories of people in Oklahoma shouldering the burden of damage caused by industry-induced earthquakes. In some cases insurance does cover the damage, but in many cases homeowners are on their own.
Fighting the insurance companies
Up the road in Coyle, at a spiritual retreat named for Saint Francis of Assisi, a priest is preparing to do battle with his insurance company over earthquake damage.
Brad Wilson is director of St. Francis of the Woods, a 200-hectare spiritual retreat which includes a library featuring a unique collection of 20,000 books on religion, North American spirituality and eastern orthodoxy.
Wilson bought earthquake insurance, in spite of limited coverage and a high deductible, but he’s been unable to collect.
A wave of earthquakes which began in 2011 have left long cracks in the terrazzo flooring and plaster walls of the library. He has watched as small cracks become big.
He removes a painting from the wall to demonstrate. “It started out just the vertical crack in probably December. And then in January the crack moved down the wall to this break here,” he says, tracking the intersecting cracks with his index finger.
He says the insurance company has denied his claim because he can’t point to a single earthquake that caused all the damage.
“We have days where we’ll have three or four a day and you can literally come in after an earthquake or the next morning and it will be deeper and wider, and bigger crack.”
- VIDEO | Jackie Dill talks about what led her to fight against fracking
- VIDEO | Meet Mark Crismon — the man who watches earthquakes
Jackie Dill lives nearby. The retiree gathers wild plants and herbs near her home just outside the town of Coyle. But now her home is damaged, and surrounded by fracking operations and wastewater injection sites. She started feeling earthquakes in 2012, and on one day, she says, she counted 32.
She says she has lost her way of life and can’t afford to fix her home. So she’s telling anyone who will listen about the toll oil and gas industry practices are taking on the people of Oklahoma.
“I’m in the winter of my years and big oil has taken my home and they’re taking my way of life and all I have left is my voice and I’ll use it.”
No help from state or industry
And even though the state of Oklahoma now concedes the widespread damage from earthquakes, there’s nothing it can do to help, says Tim Baker, director of the Oklahoma Corporations Commission, Oil and Gas Division.
“Being a civil matter the District Court is actually the only vehicle there is for homeowners who’ve had their home damaged to get some resolution,” he says.
So District Court is where many homeowners are headed. Oklahoma City attorney Garvin Isaacs has put together a team of lawyers and launched a class-action suit, naming twelve energy companies. The suit, on behalf of 40 clients was filed days after a Jan. 1 earthquake measuring 4.4 rumbled under the affluent Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.
- Oklahoma wants cuts to fracking wastewater injection to curb earthquakes
- Oil companies can be sued by earthquake victim, Oklahoma court rules
- Earthquakes caused by fracking now included in USGS seismic risk maps
“This is to me the biggest issue in the state of Oklahoma right now and we’ve got to do something about it,” says Isaacs.
He says landowners are not only on the hook for damages, but also for diminishing property values.
“Nobody is going to buy that property and move into it when it’s been damaged by earthquakes.”
Isaacs’ suit accuses the energy companies of “reckless indifference and callous disregard,” and states that the wells they operate pose “an unreasonable and ongoing threat of harm.”
The lawyer won’t speculate on how much damage has been caused, nor say how many potential plaintiffs there may eventually be. For now, he’s pushing to get the case in front of an Oklahoma state jury. [Emphasis added]
Luther Area Rattled By 4.1 Magnitude Quake by Matthew Nuttle, April 27, 2016, News9
LUTHER, Oklahoma – Residents in central Oklahoma were jolted by another moderately sized earthquake, Wednesday morning.
The 4.1 magnitude temblor struck at approximately 10:44 a.m. about 7.5 miles north northeast of the town of Luther, Okla., or about 30 miles to the northeast of the OKC metro, at a depth of about 3.6 miles.
Several News 9 viewers around the metro area reported feeling the shaking. So far there have been no reports of injuries or damage associated with this quake.
On Tuesday, a 4.0 and a 3.7 magnitude earthquake struck areas near Harrah and Luther respectively.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), earthquakes with magnitudes ranging from 2.5 to 3.0 are generally the smallest ones felt by humans. Damage is more likely with quakes at magnitudes of 4.0 and greater. [Emphasis added]
Pa. officials investigating quakes near fracking operations by Laura Legere, April 27, 2016, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania officials are investigating the cause of a small earthquake in Lawrence County on Monday not far from the site of a natural gas well where fracking operations were ongoing.
Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Melanie Williams said Hilcorp Energy Co., doing business as North Beaver NC Development, was hydraulically fracturing two wells on a four-well pad in Mahoning Township when seismic monitors detected a magnitude 1.9 earthquake, at 12:05 a.m. on Monday, according to U.S. Geological Survey records.
That tremor was followed by another magnitude 1.9 earthquake at 10 p.m. Monday in the same township about a mile away, according to the USGS.
At about noon on Monday, “Hilcorp stopped fracking operations and demobilized the same day from that location,” Ms. Williams said.
A Hilcorp spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Fracking has infrequently [or frequently?] been suspected of directly triggering earthquakes, in cases in England, British Columbia, [Alberta,] Oklahoma and Ohio, but researchers have never tied the gas extraction process to quakes in Pennsylvania.
A recent study by a Penn State University graduate student cataloged 1,355 small seismic events in the state between 2013 and 2014, and found no correlation to underground disposal wells or hydraulic fracturing at oil and gas wells. [Same university that AER paid more than a million dollars for pathetic synergy dribble on to become a (maybe) “Best in Class” regulator?]
Pennsylvania is currently expanding its seismic network to include 42 monitoring stations so that seismic events anywhere in the state should be detectable as small as magnitude 2.0, which is generally below what humans can feel. The expansion was inspired, in part, by state officials’ desire to better understand seismic risks potentially associated with oil and gas activity.
Ohio regulators determined that a series of small earthquakes in Mahoning County in 2014 showed “a probable connection” to fracking at a Utica Shale well operated by Hilcorp. Five quakes ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 3.0, according to USGS records, and the closest was about a mile west of the Pennsylvania border.
In response, Ohio established a requirement that companies install seismic monitors at horizontal production wells within 3 miles of a known fault or site of a past earthquake. If on-site monitors pick up a seismic event larger than magnitude 1.0, well site activities would be put on hold for an investigation.
Pennsylvania regulators have considered creating rules for wells in “seismic hazard areas,” but have not released any specific proposals. [Emphasis added]
Hilcorp Halts Fracking After Small Earthquake in Western Pennsylvania by Jamison Cocklin, April 27, 2016, Natural Gas Intel
Hilcorp Energy Co. has stopped stimulating two horizontal shale wells in western Pennsylvania as state regulators investigate what caused a small earthquake on Monday near the company’s operations, a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesperson said Wednesday.
The state’s seismic monitoring network detected an earthquake in Lawrence County’s Mahoning Township early Monday, said DEP spokeswoman Melanie Williams. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake was a 1.9-magnitude. Williams said no link has been made between the tremor and Hilcorp’s operations, but she said the agency, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), is continuing to investigate the cause.
The earthquake’s epicenter was in Mahoning, about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, where Hilcorp has a four-well pad being operated by subsidiary North Beaver NC Development, Williams said. Two of the wells on that pad were fractured (fracked) on March 30 and have since been completed. Williams said the other two wells were being stimulated and were almost complete when the earthquake was recorded.
At about noon EDT on Monday, she said, Hilcorp “stopped fracking operations and demobilized the same day from that location.” Hilcorp was not available for comment on Wednesday.
The incident comes about two years after a 3.0-magnitude earthquake was recorded in Poland Township, OH, six miles west of Mahoning (see Shale Daily, March 11, 2014). After a month of investigation, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) concluded that sand and water injected into one of six wells on another Hilcorp pad increased pressure on an unknown micro-fault in the area, triggering the earthquake and a series of smaller ones in the days after.
ODNR and Hilcorp halted stimulation at the Poland site during the investigation. Privately owned Hilcorp is one of the most active operators in Northeast Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania, where it has both Marcellus and Utica shale wells. It has been issued more than 150 unconventional drilling permits in Lawrence County alone, according to state records.
Last year, the DEP and the DCNR stepped up efforts to monitor for naturally occurring and human-induced earthquakes to improve the safety of oil and gas permitting decisions and geologic mapping (see Shale Daily, Sept. 29, 2015). The agencies contributed about $531,000 [Why are tax payers paying to monitor industry’s quakes?] to maintain a real-time network of 30 seismic monitoring stations in conjunction with Pennsylvania State University, which had already been monitoring seismic activity in the state for years.
Lawrence County borders Mahoning County, OH, where the Poland earthquake was recorded two years ago. In 2011, about 12 miles to the west of Mahoning in Youngstown, OH, a 4.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the city. That tremor was later linked to an underground oil and gas wastewater injection well in the city (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4, 2012).
After ODNR determined that Hilcorp’s operations in Poland caused the 3.0-magnitude earthquake, it prompted regulators to issue an unprecedented set of permitting conditions for fracking horizontal wells near fault lines or areas of previous seismic activity (see Shale Daily, April 11, 2014). [Emphasis added]
Hilcorp halts fracking at Lawrence County shale site near earthquake by David Conti, April 27, 2016, Triblive
A natural gas company voluntarily halted fracking activity on a Marcellus shale well in Lawrence County this week while state officials investigate a minor, nearby earthquake.
Houston-based Hilcorp Energy stopped fracking one of the four wells it drilled on its North Beaver NC Development pad west of New Castle about noon Monday, hours after a 1.9 magnitude earthquake was detected nearby in Mahoning.
The Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the tremor with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said DEP spokeswoman Melanie Williams.
A spokesman for Hilcorp did not respond to questions on Wednesday.
Researchers and industry officials have for several years debated a potential connection between fracking and earthquakes. Studies have connected swarms of earthquakes to underground injection wells into which companies deposit wastewater from fracking, which uses high-pressure water and sand to break up and prop open shale to release gas and oil thousands of feet below ground.
State officials say they have found no links between oil and gas operations and earthquakes in Pennsylvania since the shale drilling boom began a decade ago.
Pennsylvania has become the second largest gas producer in the country but has fewer than 10 injection wells for wastewater storage. [Poisoning families, communities and farms via waste pits instead]
DEP and DCNR said last year they would increase monitoring for earthquakes in areas of oil and gas development.
In 2014, authorities in Ohio stopped operations at a Hilcorp site in Poland Township — less than 10 miles from Mahoning — because five earthquakes ranging from 2.1 to 3.0 magnitude happened close to that pad. Hilcorp had finished fracking two of the wells on the Mahoning pad, Williams said. Crews stopped work on the remaining wells and were removing all equipment from the site, she said. [Emphasis added]
Fracking halted at well near quake site by New Castle News, April 26, 2016
Fracking was halted about noon Monday at a Hilcorp Energy Co. wellpad in North Beaver Township following a minor earthquake about a mile away.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said fracking operations have halted on the site and it is conducting an investigation along with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources following a 1.9 magnitude earthquake early Monday about a mile away from that wellpad. [Emphasis added]
New Maps Show Seven Million Americans at Risk from Industry-Made Quakes US science agency highlights ‘potential ground-shaking hazards’ by Andrew Nikiforuk, April 1, 2016, TheTyee.ca