Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that earthquake injury lawsuits against oil and gas companies could now be heard in district courts. Previously, the oil industry had been trying to avoid such court cases and asked for them to be heard only through the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
The State’s highest court rejected the request, stating:
The Commission, although possessing many of the powers of a court of record, is without the authority to entertain a suit for damages.
The court was in no way ruling that earthquakes are caused by companies using hydraulic fracturing technology to extract oil and natural gas.
Instead, the opinion spoke only of which court was best suited to hear such claims in Oklahoma. This opinion upheld the longstanding tradition of allowing district courts exclusive jurisdiction over private tort actions.
A recent flurry of earthquakes in Oklahoma have placed the state at the center of the fracking debate. A recent study by the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the U.S. Geological Survey reported potential links between wastewater injection, a practice often used for the disposal of water waste in fracking, and earthquakes. The study has been heavily disputed and many conclude the earthquakes are simply a manifestation of natural causes.