High court allows lawsuit over quake damage

published in The Journal Record | July 2, 2015

On June 30, 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma district court, not the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, was the appropriate venue for an Oklahoma woman to pursue her claims against two oil companies for personal and property damages caused by a 2011 earthquake.  In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants’ disposal of wastewater was to blame for triggering the 5.6-magnitude quake that damaged her home and injured her.  Mark Christiansen, co-leader of McAfee & Taft’s Energy Group, was interviewed by The Journal Record about the court’s decision and the possible effects of future lawsuits.

Christiansen explained that the high court’s decision was strictly based on jurisdictional claims, and not the merits of the plaintiff’s allegations, which he said may be very difficult to prove.  “Scientists generally agree they are not able to connect any specific wastewater disposal well to any specific earthquake, so any future lawsuits focused on earthquake phenomena are not limited to geographic areas with increased disposal activity,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, increased public concern over seismic activity and wastewater disposal may ultimately lead to other types of lawsuits.  For example, if a court ruling led to certain restrictions on wastewater disposal, mineral rights owners could argue they aren’t able to earn money from royalties.  “The proper adjudication of lawsuits of recent earthquake phenomena impacted by policy concerns will extend well beyond the typical lawsuits pending in our courts,” said Christiansen.