Pawnee Nation lawsuit asks that drilling permits be voided

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to void drilling permits for oil and natural gas wells on tribal land that the tribe alleges cause earthquakes in northern Oklahoma.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa on Friday, a day after Pawnee residents filed a separate lawsuit in state court against 27 companies they allege operate wastewater injection wells although they know the method causes earthquakes, the Tulsa World reported (http://bit.ly/2eQX5dj ).

The federal lawsuit claims drilling permits and leases on tribal-owned lands held in trust have been improperly approved by the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“In doing so, BIA and BLM also have run roughshod over Pawnee natural resource protection laws, disregarded a tribal moratorium on new oil and gas approvals, and violated the agencies’ trust responsibilities to the Pawnee,” the lawsuit alleges.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 3 was centered about nine miles northwest of Pawnee. The earthquake damaged structures in Pawnee, including many of the Pawnee Nation’s administrative buildings, the lawsuit alleges. It also prompted the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to order 37 injection wells near the quake epicenter to temporarily shut down.

The approval of the challenged oil and gas drilling permits has occurred despite an October 2015 tribal ban on new wells in Payne and Pawnee counties, the lawsuit states.

The tribal resolution adopting the moratorium described hydraulic fracturing as a “new, vastly different, and highly destructive land use posing threats of earthquakes, water pollution and impacts to Indian water rights,” according to the lawsuit.

“The subsurface pressures from that injected waste have caused a wave of disposal-induced earthquakes in northern Oklahoma,” it says.

The Pawnee Nation, headquartered in Pawnee, has about 3,200 members.