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Energy and Environment Monitor

Sierra Club Threatens RCRA Citizen Suit Against Oil & Gas Operators Over Earthquakes in Oklahoma and Southern Kansas

November 11, 2015

By: Robert G. McLusky

By letter dated October 29, the Sierra Club served a “Notice of Intent to Sue” on four exploration and production companies claiming that their injection of waste fluids from the oil and gas industries has contributed to earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.  The NOI cites the so-called “imminent harm” provision of RCRA.  That provision authorizes citizens who have suffered harm to sue “any person . . . who has contributed or who is contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an eminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”  42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B). 

The NOI cites conclusions reached by the Oklahoma Geological Survey in the spring of 2015 that “the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water and disposal wells.” Continuing, the Sierra Club’s NOI claims that the “before 2009 the maximum number of earthquakes measured in a given year in Oklahoma was 167 in 1995.  By 2014, the number of measured earthquakes soared to over 5,000, and in 2015 the number of earthquakes is predicted to be over 6,000.” 

The NOI, which targets four companies, demands that they immediately reduce the volume of production waste they are injecting; reinforce vulnerable structures that current forecasts show could be damaged by large earthquakes; and establish an independent earthquake monitoring prediction center to analyze and forecast how much production waste can be injected without inducing earthquakes.

This article was authored by Robert G. McLusky, Jackson Kelly, PLLC.


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