In Oklahoma, Fracking Companies Can Now Be Sued Over Earthquakes

If you live in Oklahoma, and you’ve been injured by an earthquake that was possibly triggered by oil and gas operations, you can now sue the oil company for damages.

That’s the effect of a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which on June 30, 2015 rejected efforts by the oil industry to prevent earthquake injury lawsuits from being heard in court. Instead of being decided by juries and judges, the industry was arguing that cases should be resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, a state regulatory agency. The state’s high court rejected that argument.

“The Commission, although possessing many of the powers of a court of record, is without the authority to entertain a suit for damages,” the opinion reads. “Private tort actions, therefore, are exclusively within the jurisdiction of district courts.”

The issue of whether oil companies could be held responsible for earthquakes has been closely watched in Oklahoma, where seismic activity has been steadily on the rise since the start of the fracking boom there in 2009. Right now, the state averages about 10 small earthquakes per day — on June 26, there were 25 quakes. The Oklahoma Geological Survey recognizes this is unprecedented, saying “[n]o documented cases of induced seismicity have ever come close to the current earthquake rates or the area over which the earthquakes are occurring.”

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