Oklahoma Native American tribe sues energy companies for quake damage

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By Lenzy Krebiel-Burton | PAWNEE, Okla.

PAWNEE, Okla. The Pawnee Nation filed a lawsuit
on Friday in tribal court in Oklahoma against 27 oil and gas
producers, seeking damages for an earthquake they said was
caused from man-made activity related to hydraulic fracturing,
or fracking.

The Native American group claimed that wastewater injected
into disposal wells helped trigger a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in
September, the strongest on record in the state, that damaged
several Pawnee Nation buildings, including several that are more
than 100 years old.

Lawyers for the Pawnee Nation said they believe the case is
the first of its sort filed in a tribal court. They are seeking
at least $250,000 in damages.

Most of the companies were listed as “John Does” in court
papers.

Attorneys for two of the companies named in the suit,
Oklahoma City-based Cummings Oil and Tulsa-based Eagle Road Oil,
could not be reached for comment.

The American Bar Association said the civil powers of tribal
courts extend to “consensual relations” with non-members and
non-Indians, including contractual relations.

Headquartered about 60 miles (100 km) west of Tulsa, the
Pawnee Nation has 3,500 enrolled tribal citizens. It has a
separate earthquake-related lawsuit pending in federal court
against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land
Management.

One tribal building was declared structurally unsound after the earthquake, forcing officials to move two departments and a
branch of government, the lawyers said.

“We’ve already been forced out of our homelands in
Nebraska,” Pawnee Nation Executive Director Andrew Knife Chief
told reporters.

“Our home is now here in Oklahoma and has been since the
1870s. The destruction of our buildings is too high a price for
our nation to bear,” he said.

In December, Oklahoma said it was imposing guidelines to
reduce the risk of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing in
its oil-rich shale formations, the first rules in the state to
target the energy production technique.

The move by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and
Gas Conservation Division and the Oklahoma Geological Survey
came as earthquakes in the state have risen sharply since the
shale boom and the use of fracking.

Oklahoma has been shaken by a series of earthquakes that the
state has said are tied to disposal of wastewater from fracking.

Oklahoma has been recording 2-1/2 earthquakes daily of
magnitude 3 or greater, a seismicity rate 600 times greater than
before 2008, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) said. (Additional reporting Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas)



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