November 30, 2020

WATCH: Frackquakes: Litigation and Seismic Impact of Wastewater Injection Wells

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions


Between 1973 and 2008, a total of 768 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher shook the central and eastern United States (an average of 25 each year). Meanwhile, in 2009-2019, the same region experienced a total of 3,642 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher. Evidence is mounting that many of these earthquakes were caused by the deep injection of wastewater fluids resulting from oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking").

At a virtual event on Oct. 23, 2020, Scott Poynter (Poynter Law Group, Little Rock, AR) offered a history of the novel litigation theories and processes involving earthquakes created by wastewater disposal processes from oil and gas operations, including fracking. This virtual event was part of the Energy Transition Speaker Series organized by the Duke University Energy Initiative and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Poynter—the legal pioneer responsible for most of the relevant lawsuits to date—discussed actions filed in Arkansas centered around the Guy-Greenbrier Earthquake Swarm in 2010-2011. He also commented on more recent cases, appeals, and settlements reached in Oklahoma, the nation's most seismically active state. While Arkansas has one area of seismicity, Poynter pointed out, Oklahoma has approximately fifteen, including areas near Prague, Pawnee, and Cushing.

His talk was followed by a Q&A session (32:55). Topics included:
--The role of geophysicists in tracing induced seismicity to specific wells;
-- The response of homeowners insurance companies to seismicity claims;
-- What oil and gas companies and state regulators can do to reduce induced seismicity, assuming fracking is to continue in a state; and
-- Types of damages that are being pursued in litigation.

SPEAKER BIO: Scott Poynter is a partner at Poynter Law Group in Little Rock, Arkansas. He began his practice in 1990 in the U.S. Air Force as a Judge Advocate General. After leaving active duty, Poynter was a partner at a national class action law firm, which focused on representing investors. He also continued his military career in the Arkansas Air National Guard, where he attained the rank of Major. At Poynter Law Group, he serves farmers, homeowners, banks, physicians, medical facilities, consumers, and investors with complex legal issues. He earned a juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law and bachelor's degree in accounting from Arkansas Tech University.

MODERATOR: Kate Konschnik is director of the climate and energy program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and a senior lecturing fellow at Duke Law.

CREDITS: Poynter's presentation includes a clip from a Jan. 21, 2016 story that aired on News 9 (KWTV) in Oklahoma City, used with permission.

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