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Complicit Local Media Fails On Earthquake Coverage

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The media coverage of the 4.3-magnitude earthquake that shook central Oklahoma Tuesday was complacent and routine.

That’s probably just what the oil and gas industry wants.

A glance at online reports about the quakes from The Oklahoman, News 9, KOCO/Channel 5 and NewsChannel 4 shows they didn’t even mention how scientists claim the dramatic surge in earthquakes here are caused by the oil and gas drilling process known a hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The rhetorical structure of how the local media now covers stronger earthquakes has become a pattern: Note the magnitude of the earthquake, quote the impressions of people who felt it and then offer up some video of stuff shaking on the walls, ceilings and shelves.

When a larger, frightening earthquake strikes these days we end up reading quotes like this: “My dad said maybe the good lord was trying to tell someone something, and I said if he was talking to me, I sure got the message.” Here’s another one: “The hummingbird feeder on the front porch was moving and a swing seat on the porch was rattling pretty good.” Colorful, right?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these standard person-on-the-street statements, of course, but they are presented with a gaping lack of context.

I want to point this out in harsh terms. The local corporate media coverage of our state’s earthquake problem and the problems inherent in fracking is biased and unethical. If and when a major earthquake strikes here causing large-scale damage and bodily harm, the corporate media will be as much to blame as state leaders who have failed to act with urgency to address the state’s obvious earthquake emergency.

Any media outlet reporting on an earthquake here that’s 3.0-magnitude or above should at the very least mention the growing scientific evidence that it was probably caused by disposal wells used in the fracking process. The failure to do so is a cover-up for the oil and gas industry.

So let me reiterate. Fracking is a drilling process in which water laced with chemicals is injected underground into rock formations, releasing oil and gas from crevices or veins. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells. The disposal well process is what scientists believe is causing the hundreds of earthquakes the state has experienced in the last few years.

The numbers are staggering. Here’s just one: Reuters recently reported that there have been 292 earthquakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher so far this year in Oklahoma, but that was at least a week ago. The number is surely close to 300 or more by now.

There have been some recent developments about growing protests against fracking. I wrote about those developments here.

The corporate media here is undoubtedly dependent on the oil and gas industry for advertising dollars. The oil and gas industry political lobby is large and well funded here and elsewhere and that plays into the media’s complicity as well.

Constance Johnson For U.S. Senate

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It should be a no-brainer that state Sen. Constance Johnson is the clear choice in the Aug. 26 Democratic runoff election for the U.S. senatorial seat vacated by Tom Coburn.

It’s important Democrats, for the sake of the state party and its future direction, get out the vote next week and select Johnson to face Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford in the general election.

The Oklahoma City progressive faces what the state media calls “a perennial candidate” in the primary race. The 79-year-old Jim Rogers apparently makes it a hobby to run for political office in the state and does little campaigning when he runs. He managed to pull out more than 57,000 votes in the June primary election, a setback for the state’s Democratic Party.

The 62-year-old Johnson, on the other hand, is an accomplished state senator with bonafide progressive credentials. She’s running a credible and viable campaign with volunteers and donors. She may face an uphill battle against the better-funded Lankford in the general election, but this runoff election is simply a waste of Democrats’ time and money. They need to come out in big numbers Aug. 26 to support Johnson, and that means party workers at all levels throughout the state need to work to get out the vote for her.

The governing board of the Oklahoma Democratic Party has rightly endorsed Johnson in the runoff election.

Johnson is well known in the Oklahoma City area as an advocate for corrections reform, reproductive rights for women and wider medical access. While some Democrats have either lost their voice during the recent conservative wave in Oklahoma or given up the political scene entirely, Johnson has been an unwavering fighter for economic equality and the rights of women and minorities.

In a recent Tulsa World article, Johnson put it this way: “I think we’re seeing Democratic candidates who are unashamedly and unabashedly Democrats. When we stand up and speak to our base, we will see a resurgence of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma.” There are many Oklahoma Democrats who believe this, often arguing it’s better to lose elections without violating basic principles than lose elections while pandering to conservative voters.

Johnson served on the state Senate staff for 24 years before her election in 2005.

Here are two more of Johnson’s positions: (1) She wants to outlaw the death penalty. (2) She wants to legalize marijuana. These positions might not find support among ultra-conservatives here in Oklahoma, and that’s why I mentioned them, but they are becoming more and more accepted throughout the country. Six states, for example, have abolished the death penalty in recent years. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Johnson’s position on these and other issues are far more mainstream and enlightened than some of the wackier extremist legislation offered up by Republicans in recent years at the state Capitol.

The Lankford camp will undoubtedly try to demonize Johnson as a “liberal” in the general election and assume victory in conservative Oklahoma. That’s far better, and maybe even instructive for future races, than Lankford and his crew laughing all the way to Washington at the Oklahoma Democratic Party if Rogers wins the runoff.

Again, Johnson is the clear choice for the U.S Senate in the Democratic primary Aug. 26.

Fracking Awareness Grows

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People here and across the country are waking up in increasing numbers to the environmental dangers of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a drilling process used by the oil and gas industry. In the process, water laced with chemicals and other material is injected by high pressure into rock formations, which create crevices or veins that release oil and gas. Later the wastewater from the process is again injected into the ground by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells.

For years, environmental groups have argued that fracking leads to water contamination. Josh Fox’s documentary films Gasland and Gasland Part 2 have documented this in an extremely methodical fashion. Here in Oklahoma and elsewhere, the main immediate problem with the fracking process is that the disposal wells are causing a dramatic surge in earthquakes, according to scientists.

It’s important to achieve fossil-fuel independence from other countries as we continue to develop new renewable energy sources, but fracking poses serious and long-lasting threats to our environment, our health and our property, including our homes. Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is important to our state in terms of the economy, but it’s become readily apparent that the negative impact of fracking outweighs the benefits in terms of employment and taxation. In fact, the oil and gas industry here was recently given an a huge tax break after multi-millionaire energy executives, including the billionaire Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, successfully lobbied the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin.

Let’s be clear. Major leaders in the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and elsewhere don’t want their companies to pay their fair share of taxes and they apparently don’t care if their companies’ drilling processes damage property because of earthquakes or pollute the environment or contaminate the water supply. There are some exceptions, but not enough to make a difference. The free market will not take care of this problem by itself.

Anyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been writing about the real dangers of fracking for years, and I will continue to do so. It’s an extremely important issue that’s now getting more attention here because of the dramatic surge in earthquakes as Oklahoma experiences another energy boom because of the controversial drilling process.

The corporate media here—the state’s two metropolitan newspapers, The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World and the television stations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa—are completely unreliable on this issue undoubtedly because they rely on advertising dollars from the local energy industry and support conservative ideology and initiatives without allowing consistent dissenting viewpoints. The Republican-dominated government here, in general, wants even more deregulation of corporations, not less. It’s a perfect storm that threatens our property, our health and, really, even our lives.

But there is hope. A relatively recent town hall in Edmond about the state’s earthquake emergency and its connection to fracking drew hundreds of people. A group in Denton, TX is now trying to outright ban fracking within the city limits. Lawsuits have been filed against energy-related companies here and across the country because of the residual impact of fracking. I recently wrote about that here. Meanwhile, more and more information about the dangers of fracking is coming to light from scientists and environmental groups.

Here are three new developments—all with local implications—to consider just within the last few days:

(1) A town hall meeting on fracking in which at least one speaker discussed a moratorium on fracking was held in Norman Monday. It was held in the Norman Public Library, according to a news report, and the crowd exceeded the capacity of its venue. This meeting, just like the one in Edmond, shows that people are highly concerned about the impact of fracking on their lives.

(2) A Reuters article published last Saturday pointed out that Oklahoma has experienced 292 earthquakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher so far this year. That’s an incredible, dramatic number of earthquakes for Oklahoma. The governor and/or federal government should declare it an immediate emergency. Scientists, as we have known for a long time now, believe the earthquakes are triggered by fracking disposal wells. The article pointed out some new reporting regulations for operators of fracking disposal wells are soon to take effect, but these new regulations don’t go far enough.

(3) The Environmental Integrity Project released a report on Wednesday claiming that some drilling companies across the country continue to use diesel fuel in the fracking process, which is illegal. Oklahoma was one of the states in which this occurred, according to a news report. There is some dispute over the legal issues and the definition of diesel fuel by the oil and gas industry, but the report definitely highlights the toxicity of fracking and its potential to contaminate water and damage the environment.

The long-term answer to fracking is to develop more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. We also need to develop more public transportation systems, such as high-speed railroad trains, and reduce our reliance on the automobile. Obviously, this can’t be done overnight. Fossil fuels will remain a significant part of our energy supply for years to come, but stricter drilling regulations, including bans and moratoriums on fracking, are necessary for the common good.

Does the dirty business of fracking symbolize the last gasps of the Oil Age, which will be a blip in history in centuries to come? Will it do so much damage to our environment in the meantime that future generations will look back on us in horror that we allowed it to happen?

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