Time has taught us that appealing to the fossil fuel industry’s sense of morality is pointless. Apparently, they have no morals. Instead we come at them with science-backed lawsuits.
Following a recent study that linked over 100 anomalous earthquakes in Ohio to hydraulic fracturing, residents of small communities across the United States are taking Big Gas to court.
We’re not talking about towns in California or any of the other earthquake hotspots in America. We’re talking about communities in the middle of America that had never experienced an earthquake in reported history; that is, until fracking operations came to town.
Fracking uses high-powered streams of chemical-laden water to increase underground pressure. This pressure expands underground pores where natural gas likes to hide, forcing it to the surface. Unfortunately, extraction is only part of the fracking story. After the gas has been extracted, there’s the issue of what to do with the leftover wastewater.
Typically, fracking companies will dump wastewater into underground disposal wells that have been drilled into vast, permeable rock formations. “Because water is heavy, the more of it that is sluiced into a well, the more it weighs on the rock below,” explains Mother Jones. “When pore pressure spikes in disposal wells, it can move rock.” And when underground rocks start jitter-bugging around, it means people and buildings on the surface are going for a ride. Although the industry denies any culpability, people living in affected communities have all the proof they need.
“Youngstown, Ohio, experienced its very first earthquake in January 2011. From then until February 2012, it experienced 108 more,” reports Salon. “In 2010 and 2011, the quiet farming town of Greenbrier, Arkansas, was rattled by a swarm of more than 1,000 minor earthquakes,” explains Reuters. When the Arkansas Oil and Gas commission ordered gas companies to shut down their fracking wastewater disposal wells, the quakes stopped immediately. That was enough for the good people of Greenbrier.
Over a dozen residents of the rural town have filed five lawsuits in federal court against Chesapeake Operating Inc., which owned the wastewater disposal wells in 2010, and BHP Billiton, which purchased Chesapeake’s shale gas assets in 2011.
The suits mark the first time citizens have gone after gas companies for causing natural disasters. Most previous suits have focused on health and environmental consequences of fracking, which gas companies have become deft at wiggling out of. Because the Arkansas litigation does not target fracking itself, but rather the disposal of the leftover toxic, briny water, it’s hoped that the Greenbrier case will blaze a new trail that other fracking opponents can follow.
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