Policy

Fracking Lawsuits

In the past few years, several legal cases have been brought against oil companies and regulatory agencies alleging harm caused by fracking and well stimulation. This page summarizes the most prominent fracking lawsuits targeting oil companies and the agencies charged with their oversight.

Palla Farms v. Crimson Resource Management Corp.

On September 15, 2014, Palla Farms filed a lawsuit accusing several oil companies including Crimson Resource Management Corp., Dole Enterprises, and others of negligence, trespass, and both public and private nuisance. The Palla family believes that their freshwater has been polluted by the wastewater these oil companies have injected underground. During the last 6 years alone, companies have injected over 1.9 billion gallons of brackish wastewater within three miles of Palla Farms and their freshwater aquifers, allegedly leading to the death of the Farm’s cherry crop. Palla Farms v. Crimson Resource Management Corp. is ongoing but its outcome may carry important implications for future wastewater disposal practices in the San Joaqin Valley, one of the most important areas in California’s agricultural economy.

Bureau of Land Management

Many fracking lawsuits have involved federal mineral estate

A map of federal mineral estate alongside the central California coast (Source: BLM)

In 2013, a federal judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by selling oil leases without due environmental diligence for 2,500 acres of public land in Monterey County. The lawsuit cited the outdated environmental reports and alleged that the BLM failed in taking a ‘hard look’ at the impacts. Since then, at the recommendation of the court and plaintiffs, the BLM has embarked on a sweeping study of fracking technologies in California, and has enlisted the California Commission of Science and Technology to review the environmental hazards posed by unconventional oil extraction. The study is slated to finish in Spring of 2014.

EPA

In February 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop oil and gas companies from releasing toxic fracking chemicals into California’s ocean waters. CBD raised concerns that half of the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel are legally permitted to dump wastewater into the ocean with no analysis of how this might impact ocean wildlife and food chains. In addition to urging the EPA to change existing federal permits that allow oil and gas companies to release toxic chemicals into the water, the petition asks the EPA to develop national guidelines for offshore fracking.

DOGGR

Several environmental groups filed a 2012 lawsuit against the Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermic Resources (DOGGR) for failing to sufficiently review the impacts of issuing oil and gas permits relating to fracking. The case was ruled moot in light of the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 4. The lawsuit alleged a violation of CEQA by misclassification of well stimulation projects as “minor alterations to land” rather than new projects that would have required a full environmental assessment.1 Learn more about California regulations.

Allenco Energy

The Los Angeles City Attorney is currently challenging the resumption of oil drilling at an AllenCo site near USC. Since beginning oil operations in the low-income neighborhood, AllenCo Energy has been the subject of numerous complaints from community, city, state, and federal representatives (read the case study). Following an EPA inspection that concluded AllenCo had failed to take adequate steps to prevent the release of hazardous substances, the site was shut down temporarily pending repairs. With plans to reopen the site, the LA City Attorney took legal action on the grounds that AllenCo had allegedly been willfully disregarding violation notices by oversight agencies and ignoring evidence that oil production was sickening nearby residents. Read more about cases of urban oil drilling.

AllenCo, center of fracking lawsuits in LA

Between 2009 and 2010, Allenco increased oil production at their urban site over 400% (Source: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Aera Energy

Fred Starrh, perhaps the most profile of the fracking lawsuits

Fred Starrh stands in his almond orchards. (Source: Todd D’Addario/High Country News)

Longtime Kern County cotton, pistachio, almond, and alfalfa grower Fred Starrh sued Aera Energy–a joint venture of Shell and ExxonMobil–for allegedly polluting his groundwater and allowing the leakage of produced wastewater from unlined disposal pits. According to Starrh, his orchards began wilting after applying the groundwater, so he tested the water and found unusually high levels of chloride and boron–both common in produced water. After 9 years of legal procedures, Aera was forced to disclose their practices. The regional water quality control board mandated Aera stop dumping water into the unlined ponds, and the jury awarded Starrh $8.5 million in damages. Starrh appealed the decision in the fracking lawsuit, seeking punitive damages, claiming the true cost of land and water rehabilitation is much higher. He also claimed Aera had operated with malice. Read more about water contamination.

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