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Shattered Nerves: Addressing Induced Seismicity Through the Law of Nuisance

April 2016

Citation: 46 ELR 10326

Issue: 4

Author: Lucas Satterlee

The number of earthquakes felt in the central and eastern United States has increased dramatically; the scientific consensus is that injection of oil and gas wastewater fluids is the most likely culprit. Regulations and voluntary industry efforts are likely the best mechanisms to mitigate the risks associated with induced seismicity, but the common law remains relevant. This Article explores whether and to what extent a nuisance framework can be applied. Utilizing the law of nuisance to address induced seismicity is a novel concept, but the same basic rules used to assess liability when other human activities cause the earth to vibrate should apply. Proving causation is currently plaintiffs’ most challenging obstacle, but as the science becomes more developed, the chances of establishing the requisite link increase. The Article concludes that if reasonable precautions are not taken in the siting and operation of an injection well, companies can be held liable for creating a nuisance in the form of earthquakes.

Lucas Satterlee is a 2016 J.D. candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

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