Potentially opening the door for litigation that seeks to tie deep-well injection of hydraulic fracturing flowback and other wastewater to damage caused by earthquakes, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously held that state district courts have jurisdiction to hear such complaints. Ladra v. New Dominion, LLC, 2015 OK 53 (Okla. 2015).
In 2011, Plaintiff Ladra was watching television at home with her family when a nearby earthquake made her home shake. Rock facing from her chimney shook loose and struck her, causing injuries to her legs and knees. Plaintiff sued the operators of wastewater injection wells near her home, alleging that the operation of their wells caused the earthquake near her home and was the proximate cause of her injuries. The district court dismissed the case, holding that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (“OCC”) had exclusive jurisdiction over cases tied to oil and gas operations.
In reversing the district court’s dismissal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the OCC’s exclusive jurisdiction “is limited to the resolution of public rights” and does not intrude upon the district court’s jurisdiction over “disputes between two or more private persons.” Id. at ¶ 10. The Court distinguished between the OCC’s exclusive jurisdiction to “regulate oil and gas exploration and production activities” and the district court’s jurisdiction to “afford a remedy to those whose common law rights have been infringed by either the violation of these regulations or otherwise.” Id. at ¶ 12. The Court’s ruling only addressed jurisdiction, and expressly stated that it contained no decision on the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s claim.