Energy companies can be sued over quakes, Oklahoma Supreme Court says

Liquid used for drilling is churned at the site of an oil derrick. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling raises the prospects of more lawsuits for energy companies.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a woman injured in a 2011 earthquake can file suit in district court against the two energy companies she accuses of causing the quake.

The ruling raises the prospect of more lawsuits seeking to hold companies responsible for an increase in seismic activity in the state, as more scientific studies link the tremors to the energy industry. In particular, the studies have found evidence tying quakes to operations that inject wastewater left over from drilling into wells deep underground.

Sandra Ladra of Prague, Okla., about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City, sued New Dominion LLC and Spess Oil Co. last summer for injuries she sustained during a 5.6-magnitude quake that toppled her stone chimney. The lawsuit in Lincoln County District Court contends that the companies caused the quake by injecting wastewater into nearby wells.

The companies argued that they lawfully operated their injection wells under permits from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state’s oil-and-gas regulator. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the commission had exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute.

The state Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s opinion in a unanimous ruling, concluding that a dispute between private parties should be tried in court rather than be heard by the commission.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com

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