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Oklahoma Sierra Club Calls for action from AG with new petition

John Marshall / Red Dirt Report
Johnson Bridgewater (left), is chapter director of the Sierra Club of Oklahoma.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club is urging the Oklahoma Attorney General to address state’s earthquake activity and reinstate the Environmental Protection Unit at the AG office through a new public petition.

The Oklahoma Sierra Club is gathering signatures asking the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office address the earthquake issue in the state. Johnson Bridgewater, chapter director, said that the organization is gathering information from citizens in the state before contacting the AG’s office. Once the signatures and information are gathered, the Sierra Club will request a meeting with Oklahoma’s new Attorney General Mike Hunter.

“The first thing the former AG Scott Pruitt, who is now President Trump’s EPA director, did was zero out and dissolve the Environmental Protection Unit of the Attorney General’s office,” Bridgewater said. “Now that we have a new Attorney General in Mike Hunter, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope we have someone who is willing to do the right thing.”

In February 2016, the Sierra Club filed suit against three of the biggest fracking operators in Oklahoma, asking the Court to order those companies to reduce the amount of fracking wastewater they inject into the ground and take other steps to protect the public from the astounding increase in earthquake activity caused by that wastewater injection.

The Federal Court recently dismissed that case, but Bridgewater said the new petition is a renewed effort to stop “the man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma.”

“Our lawsuit was filed to try to change the practices and procedures of the industry, which is different from the other lawsuits out there seeking damages from the earthquakes,” Bridgewater said.

“Thousands of Oklahoma residents have had damage to their assets, which is usually their home. We want to sit down with the Attorney General and share these concerns with him. We want to remind him that his office represents the interests of the Oklahoma citizens and natural resources, not those of big business.”

Oklahoma has seen an increase in earthquakes since 2009, and Bridgewater said thousands of residents have been impacted by the more than 20,000 earthquakes recorded in the last eight years. According to the United States Geological Survey, 109 earthquakes were reported in the past 30 days in Oklahoma

“So far, no one with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has made any comment or has taken action,” Bridgewater said.

Terri Watkins, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office could not comment on the announcement.

“Our office has not been contacted by the Sierra Club. So there is nothing we can comment on,” she said.

Since 2015, Oklahoma state officials have acknowledged the connection between wastewater injection wells used by energy companies during fracking and the uptick in earthquakes in the state. Before 2008, Oklahoma averaged only a handful of 3.0 magnitude or higher quakes a year.

In 2016, Oklahoma experienced 623 3.0-magnitude quakes.

In November 2016, Cushing, home of a major oil pipeline hub, was hit by a magnitude-5.0 earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded in the state. Numerous homes and buildings in the surrounding area was damaged by the quake.

According to a press release from the Sierra Club, “one unique function of the Attorney General’s office is that upon request from an Oklahoma official, the Attorney General is required to offer a formal legal opinion - but again, this function has not been carried out due to a lack of request from Oklahoma officials. Sierra Club hopes this issue will also be addressed soon following the gathering of thousands of signatures to be shared with the Attorney General’s office.”

“We have yet to call on the Attorney General, but we are the only organization that formally called on other state government agencies to address the problem,” said Bridgewater. “It’s time we call on the Attorney General. We would like to see action beyond the earthquake issue. We absolutely feel that the removal of the Environmental Protection Unit at the AG’s office was wrong.”

Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter Chair Michael Beilfuss said that although the Corporation Commission has placed some curbs on injection wells, more should be done.

“We just want Oklahoma government to stand up on behalf of affected Oklahomans - there are millions of dollars in damages already, and several class action lawsuits in play,” Beilfuss aid in a statement.

“Why has the Attorney General not made any attempt to help out the victims of this horrible situation? Is it fair that people’s homes are ruined by man-made earthquakes with no recourse for those people losing, in many cases, their one and only asset? Since the Sierra Club filed its lawsuit, the Corporation Commission has placed some curbs on injection wells and subsequently man-made earthquakes have decreased overall. But we think even one earthquake caused by the oil and gas industry is one too many. It’s time to end this madness. Man-made earthquakes are not normal and not acceptable.”

The petition urging Attorney General Hunter “to hold oil and gas companies accountable for these earthquake damages” can be found here.

“We have purposely not reached out to the AG yet because we are still gathering information, signatures and concerns,” Bridgewater said. “We want to be prepared to present these concerns when we call for a meeting with the Attorney General.”

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