The gloves are off in a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York where an insurer and an oil and gas company disagree about whether the company’s insurance policy covers claims that fracking causes earthquakes. On June 27, 2016, insurer Lloyd’s sued New Dominion, arguing that the Lloyd’s pollution liability policies do not provide coverage because fracking is not a “pollution condition.” (See: Complaint for Declaratory Relief.) The Lloyd’s lawsuit relates to five other Oklahoma lawsuits addressing the same issue. (See: Complaints in Oklahoma lawsuits.)

With this lawsuit, the fracking debate moves into a new arena: insurance coverage disputes. Continue Reading Fracking Debate Moves into Insurance Realm

In its June 30, 2015 opinion, Landra v. New Dominion, LLC, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a personal injury tort action alleging that fracking-related activity caused an earthquake that then caused the plaintiff’s injuries can proceed in an Oklahoma district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court made no factual or legal findings with respect to the merits of the claims of causation, it simply held that the district court has jurisdiction to hear the suit based on the allegations made.

The Landra plaintiff is a resident of Prague, Oklahoma, and her lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for injuries allegedly proximately caused by the defendants wastewater disposal practices. The plaintiff claims that in November 2011 she was watching television in her living room when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck causing rock facing on the two-story fireplace and chimney to fall onto her causing injury to her knees and legs. She claims personal injury damages in excess of $75,000. Continue Reading Fracking-Related Personal Injury Tort Claim Allowed to Proceed in Oklahoma Court

The EPA released a draft of its study, U.S. EPA Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft), EPA, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015, assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water in early June (the draft Assessment). According to the EPA’s press release, the study finds that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but “identifies important vulnerabilities.”  Continue Reading Draft EPA Study Finds Fracking Has Not Led to Widespread Drinking Water Contamination

Texas now outlaws local municipalities from passing bans on hydraulic fracturing.  The bill proposing the law sailed through the Texas Legislature by large majorities and was signed by Governor Gregg Abbott on Monday, May 18, 2015.   The law prohibits cities and towns from imposing local ordinances preventing “fracking” activities.

The bill, known as House Bill 40 (HB40), passed the Texas Senate earlier this month by a 24 – 7 vote, after previously passing the Texas House of Representative by wide margin.  The new law stems from a fracking ban passed by the north Texas town of Denton last November.  Denton’s November 2014 ballot proposal to ban oil and gas fracking was supported by 59% of Denton voters.  Continue Reading Texas Bans Fracking Bans

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management issued a long-awaited final rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. The rule was announced on Friday, March 20, 2015. According to the DOI’s press release these commonsense standards will improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals.” The new rule applies to hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian tribal lands across the United States. Approximately 100,000 wells will be affected by the rule which is set to be published in the Federal Register on March 26, 2015 (can be found here) and will become effective 90 days after its publication (June 18, 2015).

The new rule is the result of a multi-year process that included multiple draft rules, stakeholder meetings and regional public forums, as well as more than 1.5 million public comments. The rule met with immediate criticism upon release from both environmental groups (claiming the rule does not go far enough) and industry groups (claiming the rule goes too far). Continue Reading Federal Fracking Rule Announced

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, a sharply divided Ohio Supreme Court held in a 4-3 decision that Ohio local governments do not have authority to enact certain local zoning ordinances restricting hydraulic fracturing. The Court found that an Ohio statute regulating oil and gas well production operations that gives state government “sole and exclusive authority” to regulate such operations does not allow for a municipality to impose its own permit requirements on oil and gas drilling operations.

The Court found that Ohio’s home rule authority does not allow a municipality to “discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct oil and gas activities and production operations.” Accordingly, the local ordinances at issue were found to conflict with the state regulatory scheme.  Justice Judith L. French authored the Supreme Court’s lead opinion, stating that “[t]his is a classic licensing conflict under our home-rule precedent.”  “We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the ‘local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits.’”  The opinions further states that the state, not local governments, has the “right to regulate ‘all aspects’ of the location, drilling, and operation of oil and gas wells, including ‘permitting relating to those activities.’”  Continue Reading Ohio Supreme Court Invalidates Local Fracking Restrictions

A recently published study finds that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activity triggered numerous earthquakes in Ohio in March 2014.  According to the study, published online this month by The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA), the fracking activities did not create a new fault, but rather activated a fault that was previously unknown.  The study, “Earthquakes Induced by Hydraulic Fracturing in Poland Township, Ohio” was authored by Robert J. Skoumal, Michael R. Brudzinski, and Brian S. Currie affiliated with Miami University of Ohio.  Continue Reading Study Suggests Fracking Activity Induced Earthquakes

New York State’s Department of Health (DOH) Acting Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has recommended that hydraulic fracturing be banned.  According to a press release issued today, the DOH has determined that significant questions and risks to public health from fracking are unanswered making it “reckless” to allow fracking in New York State.

According to Dr. Zucker, “it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done.”  One motivating factor in Zucker’s decision was that he would not let his family live in a community with fracking so he could not recommend that anyone else’s family live in such a community either. Continue Reading New York to Ban Fracking

New York’s highest court has determined that towns could use local zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  The decision, issued June 30, 2014, is an important development in the debate about how fracking activities can be effectively “regulated” at the local level.   The New York Court of Appeals determined that the ordinances banning fracking were reasonable exercises of the towns zoning authority.  According to the Court of Appeals:  [the towns] engaged in a reasonable exercise of their zoning authority . . . when they adopted local laws clarifying that oil and gas extraction and production were not permissible uses in any zoning districts.” Continue Reading New York Court Upholds Local Zoning Ordinances Banning Fracking

Conducted as part of the National Energy Technology Laboratory research for the Department of Energy, a new study has encouraging findings regarding the impact of hydraulic fracturing.  The study, conducted during hydraulic fracturing of wells in southwestern Pennsylvania, found no detectable migration of gas or aqueous fluids, and that the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the rock mass did not extend to the Upper Devonian/Lower Mississippian gas field during or after hydraulic fracturing. Continue Reading Fracking Study Finds No Detectable Gas or Fluid Migration