The Pawnee Nation claims the fracking operations of two oil companies triggered a record-breaking earthquake that caused significant damage to its tribal government buildings. The lawsuit, filed in tribal court against Eagle Road Oil, LLC and Cummings Oil Co., alleges that damages were attributable to more than 53 earthquakes over a two-month span, including a record 5.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred Sept. 3, 2016.
Fracking involves using water and other fluids under high pressure to fracture deep rock formations to reach previously untapped pockets of natural gas. The specific contents of fracking fluids are unknown because drillers consider them to be proprietary, but they are generally comprised of water and other chemicals such as friction reducers, surfactants, gelling acids, corrosion inhibiters, antibacterial agents, sand, and clay stabilizers. Approximately 90 percent of all natural gas wells in the United States now use fracking to improve production rates.
The tribe claims the companies’ injection of wastewater caused “unnatural seismic activity” or manmade earthquakes. These earthquakes allegedly caused cracks to interior and exterior walls, plaster, ceilings, windows, and mortar of Pawnee governmental buildings, some of which are more than 100 years old and carry historical significance. Typical operations and activities have also been disrupted or suspended due to the damage. The complaint seeks property damages, market value losses to the property, and punitive damages.
The tribe has already sued the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management for approving permits without fully considering their impact on the environment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal statutes. As reliance on natural gas increases, we can expect to see a commensurate increase in fracking operations. Hopefully, oil and gas companies will continue to improve their operations, so that surrounding landowners are not adversely impacted.
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