Can the lawsuit be an effective tool against corporate misconduct? It has been, continues to be and will be again. But what about fracking? Can lawsuits affect the practice? And I want to focus here on one aspect of fracking, and that is the disposal of waste water by injecting it deep into the earth apparently near fault lines.
Here is a brief quote from an article in Think Progress – found here: Oklahoma Residents Sue Energy Companies Over Earthquake Damage | ThinkProgress
This week, a group of 14 homeowners in Edmond, Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against 12 energy companies, claiming that the companies’ fracking operations have contributed to this uptick in earthquakes. Specifically, the lawsuit targets the companies’ wastewater disposal wells, claiming that the injection of fracking wastewater into these wells “caused or contributed” to earthquakes and constituted an “ultrahazardous activity.”
In the lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma County court, the residents focus on two earthquakes — of 4.3and 4.2 magnitude — that struck Edmond on December 29 and January 1. The plaintiffs say they suffered damage from the earthquakes, and that the energy companies were “negligent, careless, and reckless” in their treatment of the earthquake risks surrounding wastewater injection.
We have questionable behavior on the part of the energy companies and a lawsuit alleging that behavior has caused harm. This works for society with most industries. Ford and General Motors have to build their cars with the knowledge that they can be sued for misconduct. Obviously, this threat hanging over their heads doesn’t always stop them from making foolish and lethal decisions but my experience is that we live in a much, much safer world because companies have to worry about being sued.
So, why do I have doubts that this will work? These aren’t “regular” companies. These are energy companies. They are the primary political powers in a number of states and the reach of their think tanks, political action committee, etc. is very difficult to measure, so enormous is the money and influence being deployed. No, these aren’t regular corporations.
I think they’ll follow the path blazed by the firearms industry and create restrictive law protecting them from lawsuits. The first legislative acts I expect to see will force those that sue and lose in court to one of these companies to pay all court costs. It may be more difficult and take more time, but in the long term they will simply seek and almost certainly get a blanket restriction on lawsuits in the “national” interest. Expect to see a giant legislative preamble talking about energy independence and the need to protect “innovation.”