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?
On Tuesday, The Oklahoman editorial page took what it called a “sentimental journey” lauding the Old West, specifically arguing that the time period’s lack of government regulations created a “self reliance” and “economic freedom” we unfortunately just don’t have anymore.
The context of the editorial, “Old West event recalls a time when self-reliance carried the day,” (Aug. 12, 2014), isn’t really important. It’s about Dodge City, Kansas. Read it here if you must. Just remember it’s a historical distortion used to advance an ultra-conservative view of the world in which large corporations can act with impunity.
Here’s a major challenge to the newspaper’s rosy depiction of the freewheeling Old West, which can be roughly dated from the period after 1775 to, say, the beginning of World War I in 1914: Gun control.
Old West towns actually had more government-enforced gun control laws than we do now. In fact, the famous 1881 OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona, was precipitated by a gun-control measure. Read about that here in a Washington Post article that quotes one professor arguing that during the Old West period, “Laws barring people from carrying weapons were commonplace, from Dodge City to Tombstone.”
You can read about other myths surrounding the Old West here. No, the cowboy wasn't an American invention, nor is the Hollywood depiction of the Old West usually accurate in historical terms. Of course, I’ve made the point about gun control laws and the Old West on this blog before.
It’s difficult to argue against the specific editorial on a point-to-point basis because it’s mostly based on inane conjecture. Here’s one about cattle drives: “Chuck wagons and cooks? They’d be subject to inspections and calorie, salt and fat restrictions.” This is nonsense.
I could point out the many advancements that have been made because of government initiatives, such as sewer and water systems, which might have been helpful to cowboys on cattle drives in the 1800s, but that’s too easy. Also, most people today probably want their “chuck wagons,” i.e., food trucks and restaurants, inspected for food safety. You can put all the salt you want on your food today. The government won’t stop you. Again, such asinine drivel barely deserves comment, but when it appears in the state’s largest newspaper it should be noted for its lack of intellectual integrity.
What does deserve noting even more on a consistent basis is how The Oklahoman editorial writers and the rest of the right-wing media distort historical fact to argue for conservative positions and ideology. The right-wing media, for example, has long tried to appropriate the legendary and Hollywood-inspired American cowboy and the Old West as the embodiment of conservatism.
But the truth is very few people want to go back to a time period without sewage systems, without electricity, without telephones, without modern medicine and without modern transportation, among many, many other accouterments of modernization. The United States, along with state and local governments, were always among the driving forces and mediators behind modernity. Government initiatives and government regulatory systems created and fostered "economic freedom," or what we might call economic exploitation, before, during and after the Old West period. It’s not the other way around.
This, of course, is not to dismiss the horrific acts of cruelty committed by federal and local governments in the cause of modernization or settlement, such as killing native people and forcing them from their land, or allowing slavery and blatant torture of people. But that, too, is a huge reason why we don't want to get back to some type of collective mindset of the Old West if there ever was such a thing.
Will it eventually take larger class action lawsuits to reform and initiate regulations governing the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or fracking drilling process in Oklahoma and elsewhere?
Given that the oil and gas political lobby is so entrenched in states like Oklahoma and Texas it seems logical that the court system might well be the only alternative to make fracking safer and to recover damages from its impact.
In Oklahoma, the main problem when it comes to fracking right now seems to be related to earthquakes. Scientists claim disposal wells used in the fracking process can trigger earthquakes, such as the one near Prague in 2011 that caused damage.
A Prague woman recently filed a lawsuit to recover damages she suffered in the 2011 5.7-magnitude quake, as first reported in The Journal Record. Her lawsuit targets two energy-related companies.
The lawsuit is just one of an increasing number of legal actions related to alleged damage caused by the fracking process, according to the International Business Times. I would argue that the lawsuits are, at one level, a direct result of ineffective regulations governing the fracking process. State leaders here and in other states long tied to the oil and gas industry, such as Texas, have been slow to react despite growing scientific evidence linking disposal wells to earthquakes.
One question raised by the individual lawsuits is if broader class action lawsuits eventually filed in federal court could bring about nationwide reform, which might include a moratorium on disposal wells. Other issues related to fracking, such as alleged water contamination, could be addressed legally as well in such lawsuits.
It becomes a question of property rights. Can an oil and gas company damage homes or pollute the common grounds through their actions without any liability or consequence? It’s difficult to imagine a court ruling in favor of that proposition. What makes it difficult, however, is proving collective damage and a scientific consensus. The oil and gas industry has absolutely no fiduciary reason right now to accept liability. They have the money to fight it out in courts.
As I’ve long argued, the oil and gas industry is vitally important to the Oklahoma economy, but, collectively, the rights of individual home owners are far more important. If people can’t own a home or live in a home in this state without the constant fear it will be damaged or even toppled by an earthquake caused by the fracking process, then the geographical space known as Oklahoma becomes eventually nothing more than a vast industrial tract.