Oklahoma has become an earthquake hub, with 579 quakes in 2014, 903 in 2015 and 623 in 2016. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is responsible for this spike in earthquakes.
Fracking, which involves shooting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release gas from shale is hazardous and harmful. To help prevent some of this toxic waste from leaking, companies will pump the fluid into a deeper hole under the shale. This process causes pressure to build up along geologic faults, which can result in earthquakes.
The Pawnee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma has has had enough. The tribe is dealing with the land and building devastation caused by the enormous increase in earthquakes in the state. Last year, a magnitude 5.8 quake, larger than any Oklahoma has ever felt, hit right outside the town of Pawnee. Two months later, another big one, a 5.0 magnitude, hit outside Cushing, a town that happens to store 60 million barrels of oil. It was only by luck that the damage wasn’t catastrophic.
Now the Pawnee Nation, along with environmental activist lawyer Erin Brockovich and the services of law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, has decided to sue Eagle Road Oil LLC and 26 other oil and gas companies for damage to its historic governmental buildings and reservation property because of these manmade earthquakes.
“The Nation wanted this to be an assertion of their sovereignty. After all, they are a nation, a sovereign nation: they have jurisdiction, even over non-Indians, on their land,” said Curt Marshall, counsel for Weitz & Luxenberg.
The Pawnee tribe says it does not want to prevent oil and gas business in the state, but wants the disposal of waste water to be done in a safe manner. The tribe’s petition states that Big Oil is “knowingly causing” the quakes and that their actions “constitute wanton or reckless disregard for public or private safety.”
“If an earthquake comes through here and destroys the buildings, we can rebuild,” Knife Chief said. “But if you pollute our water, we’re done. And we have warning signs and indications that our waterways are becoming more polluted.”