The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma was the victim of some negative effects from an oil company’s fracking practice within the region. The Cummings Oil Co. and Eagle Road Oil have both been named in a lawsuit filed in the tribal court of the Pawnee Nation for actions that resulted in damage to historic buildings in the Pawnee Nation.
The Pawnee nation claims that the fracking practices of these two companies have generated earthquakes in a mostly stable region. Attorneys representing the Pawnee nation have stated that the injection of wastewater into the oil companies’ wells caused a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that caused damaged to tribal buildings. Many of these buildings were not only of cultural significance to the Pawnee Nation but were also on the National Register of Historic Places as well. The earthquake was allegedly the largest in the history of Oklahoma, and several earthquakes have continued since then.
The tribe claims that signs provide no indications that the earthquakes will go away, and that continued fracking actions will further worsen the situation. The Pawnee Nation has since filed a lawsuit in court against the two oil drilling companies. The court, however, is not in Oklahoma State courts, but instead the court of the Pawnee Nation.
Because many Native American communities are considered their own separate sovereignties, they often have their own constitutions, elected leaders, and court systems. While these courts are intended to handle matters directly related to the tribal nation, a tribal court may exercise legal authority over a non-tribal person or entity under certain circumstances. Per the 1981 Supreme Court decision in Montana v. United States, a tribal nation may have civil authority over a non-tribal entity if the actions or behavior of that entity “threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, economic security or the health or welfare of the tribe.”
If the case is to be heard in a trial in the tribal court, a jury will be selected from members of the Pawnee Nation. The verdict of the jury can be appealed to the Pawnee Nation Supreme Court, who will have the final say in the outcome of the case. While the case may be heard within the Pawnee Nation’s court, they will have to clear the hurdle of showing in court that the damage done by the fracking has affected the tribe in the ways outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to try the oil companies.
The dangers posed by fracking can outweigh the potential benefits of the usage of this tactic. This case is just another one of many that show the environmental hazards posed by this practice. If you, your loved one, or your community has been harmed by environmental hazards stemming from actions by a corporate entity contact the legal professionals at Gilman & Bedigian today.