The Pawnee Nation filed a lawsuit on 3 March in tribal court in Oklahoma against 27 oil and gas producers, seeking damages for an earthquake they said was caused from man-made activity related to hydraulic fracturing.
The Native American group claimed that wastewater injected into disposal wells helped trigger a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in September, the strongest on record in the state, that damaged several Pawnee Nation buildings, including several that are more than 100 years old.
Lawyers for the Pawnee Nation said they believe the case is the first of its sort filed in a tribal court. They are seeking at least USD 250,000 in damages.
Most of the companies were listed as “John Does” in court papers.
Attorneys for two of the companies named in the suit, Oklahoma City-based Cummings Oil and Tulsa-based Eagle Road Oil, could not be reached for comment.
The American Bar Association said the civil powers of tribal courts extend to “consensual relations” with nonmembers and non-Indians, including contractual relations.
Headquartered about 60 miles west of Tulsa, the Pawnee Nation has 3,500 enrolled tribal citizens. It has a separate earthquake-related lawsuit pending in federal court against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management.
One tribal building was declared structurally unsound after the earthquake, forcing officials to move two departments and a branch of government, the lawyers said.