Rising Sea Levels Will Impact Oklahoma

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A new scientific study has determined that burning all the fossil fuel deposits on earth would increase the world’s temperatures so much it would eventually melt all the ice in Antarctica.

That would lead to rising sea levels so large it would destroy major cities in the world, create massive migration and generate huge food shortages leading to starvation, according to an article in The New York Times about the study.

I won’t rehash in detail the article or the study, which can be found here. The study notes the melting could take place over a thousand years if humans don’t do anything significant to curb carbon emissions, but it does raise questions over the short-term for Oklahoma, a state rich in fossil fuels and heavily tied to the oil and gas industry.

Here are four of those questions:

(1) As it becomes more evident that global warming in coming years is damaging the planet, how and when will renewable and less harmful energy sources displace the oil and gas industry here?

(2) Will renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, create as much economic development locally as the oil and gas industry?

(3) Oklahomans have endured the boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry for generations, but what if the “bust” was permanent and the state has failed to diversify its economy?

(4) How should Oklahoman leaders envision, say, the state in 100 years if there was little to no oil and gas production here?

When compared to the millions and millions of years it takes dead organisms to decompose and form the fossils we burn for energy, The Fossil Fuel age, or The Oil Age, will be a small blip in the planet’s history if there’s anyone left to record it.

So far the response from many Oklahoma leaders to global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions is basic denial. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, for example, has based much of his Senate career on this denial, but as the evidence of global warming becomes increasingly clear, Oklahoma leaders will need to envision a day when the oil and gas industry is severely limited or non-existent here.

Munson Wins Big For Democrats In HD 85

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Let me join in the chorus of accolades for Democrat Cyndi Munson, who won Tuesday’s special election for the House District 85 seat in northwest Oklahoma City.

Munson, 30, who formerly worked for Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma, beat Republican Chip Carter in a 2,640 to 2,268 vote, or by a total of 372 votes or with 54 percent of the vote, which comes to, in media parlance, an eight-point victory.

The numbers here are important, as I will point out later, but there’s no doubt this is an exciting victory for Munson and Democrats because the HD 85 seat, last held by David Dank, had been GOP-safe for more than 50 years. It was even a seat once held by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. Munson knocked on a lot of doors for this victory, and it paid off for her and Democrats.

What’s more, Munson was outspent by Carter, who raised some $200,000 in campaign money compared to Munson, who raised less than $100,000. Carter also received endorsements from big name Republicans, such as Fallin, U.S Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe and, more importantly perhaps on a local level, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

All these facts created an immediate Democratic narrative that changing demographics and perhaps changing social-issue attitudes, especially in urban areas, might be shaking up the political landscape here like all these manmade earthquakes in central Oklahoma. I hope so. It may be too early, however, to conclude this. This was a special election to fill a recently deceased legislator’s seat, and Munson, if she chooses to do so, will have to run again in the 2016 general election in which the country will be choosing a new president. Republicans will be even better prepared to win the seat now that they lost it. Yet GOP voter turnout could well hinge on who will be the Republican nominee for president. Who knows?

The Republican narrative was simply that Republicans thought the election was in the bag and that GOP voter complacency—it was after all just a 372-vote margin—contributed to Carter’s defeat. Carter also had to participate in a primary election to get on the final ballot. Munson didn’t. So the Republican excuses went on Tuesday night. I do think this election will make GOP political operatives pay more attention to the demographic issues and arguments made by Democrats on a local level here in the Oklahoma City area.

But it’s important to look at some numbers before we jump to any conclusions. According to Ballotpedia, the House District 85 election in 2008, a presidential election year, drew 17,194 total voters. Since then voter turnout has declined as it has throughout Oklahoma. In 2010, the race drew 12,786 voters. Dank ran unopposed in 2012. In 2014, Munson ran for the seat the first time, and the election drew 11,770 voters.

In that 2014 election, Dank beat Munson by 6,635 to 5,135 or by about a 13-point margin. Dank had name recognition, which helped him immensely, but Munson’s vote total in that election can only be ranked as average—okay maybe a bit above average given the circumstances—for a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in a metropolitan area. On Tuesday, a total of 4,908 people voted in the HD 85 special election, less than half of the 2014 total. So the obvious question, just when it comes to numbers, is whether the lower voter turnout in the special election was the principal reason for Munson’s election. That challenges the overarching Democratic narrative about change, but it doesn’t render it invalid.

Knowing this about the numbers, another question is whether Munson will eventually come to believe she will have to shift to more conservative positions on some issues in order to win as an incumbent in 2016 when there should be a much higher voter turnout. Some of her supporters are calling Munson a “feminist,” and I hope she is, but I couldn’t find anything on her campaign site or on the Internet in which Munson talks about the right to an abortion and reproductive rights for women, the cornerstone of female empowerment. I will gladly correct this if I’ve overlooked something. In any event, it certainly doesn’t seem like supporting reproductive rights for women was a major part of her campaign strategy.

Munson, on her site, does admirably mention problems faced by many Oklahoma women, such as high rates of domestic violence. Her site states, “Oklahoma’s women need a strong voice at the State Capitol, and Cyndi will be there for them.”

But what, for example, will be her votes on anything having to do with the propaganda attacks on the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights for women, issues that national and most likely local Republicans at the state level are going to use to pander to social conservative voters in the coming weeks and perhaps months?

I do know that the national Girl Scouts have specifically distanced themselves from both Planned Parenthood and the issue of reproductive rights. That, of course, doesn’t mean Munson will do the same or that it will matter much in the larger debate if she does.

I’m not suggesting here that Munson doesn’t have core progressive values, or that her victory isn’t significant, but with only 30 seats now in the 101-member House, there’s still not much Democrats can do without Republican support, which I bet will not be forthcoming in any significant way.

Supporting reproductive rights and the right to an abortion for women and supporting sensible immigration laws rather than drastic deportation of families have long created a dilemma for progressives in Oklahoma when it comes to getting elected to political office. I don’t see that changing much over the next year.

Right now, it looks like Oklahoma will face a major shortfall up to $1.2 billion in an annual budget that has been averaging about $7 billion in recent years. That could reduce education funding even more. How are teachers going to get raises in that type of financial environment? How crowded can our classrooms get? A budget shortfall, again, is shaping up to be the legislature’s REAL main issue for next year’s session. That could change, of course, because of the flux of taxes and economic development created by the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry here, but it doesn’t look good, and Republicans will still be firmly in control.

Wastewater Spills Raise Another Fracking Issue

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(It’s exciting news that Democrat Cyndi Munson picked up the House District 85 seat in an election Tuesday. That northwest Oklahoma City district had been considered safely Republican for at east 50 years. Does her victory portend more Democratic victories in at least the local Oklahoma City political scene? I’ll discuss the issue here soon.)

It’s worth noting that all the grim and dire predictions made by environmentalists for years about the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in this country are slowly getting recognized and sanctioned by the traditional corporate media and other businesses.

Recently, the credit rating services company, Standard and Poor’s issued an analysis showing how earthquakes caused by the injection well process used in fracking had created financial risks for home and property owners, mortgage lenders and insurance companies, and it also raised questions about liability.

Now the Associated Press has prepared an analysis of wastewater spills related to oil and gas drilling. The analysis found that at least 175 millions gallons of wastewater spilled in several states it studied from 2009 to 2014. The analysis points out that the gallon number might be too low because many spills are not officially noted.

Oklahoma is one of those states that reported spills. A StateImpact Oklahoma report on the analysis points out that Oklahoma ranks number six in the volume of wastewater spills in that time period. Wastewater from fracking is briny and laced with toxic chemicals.

In the fracking process, water mixed with chemicals is injected underground to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels, such as natural gas. The wastewater from the process is then injected in underground disposal wells. Scientists believe it is the injection well process that has triggered the hundreds of earthquakes Oklahoma has experienced over the last four years or so.

The main concern with wastewater spills is that they can contaminate water used for drinking or agriculture. Environmentalists have been concerned about such contamination for years. Gasland, a documentary film created by Josh Fox about the relationship between fracking and water contamination, appeared in 2010.

The point is this: Environmentalists have argued for years that wastewater and other types of spills related to oil and gas drilling, along with the earthquake surge experienced here in Oklahoma and other areas, are damaging our eco-system and our homes and our quality of life. If oil and gas companies are left unchecked and unregulated, the damage could grow immense.

It’s an “I-told-you-so” moment, but that’s little consolation for all the years that regulators, financial services companies and the corporate media failed to act to expose the environmental problems surrounding fracking. Now that it’s become obvious, it’s safe to talk about it, but will there be any action?

The oil and gas industry has a powerful political lobby. Many GOP Oklahoma politicians, including Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Puitt and all three Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners have received campaign contributions from oil and gas interests. The Corporation Commission regulates the oil and gas in the state.

It’s obvious that large campaign and other donations to politicians influence this country’s political system, and it’s a problem that has only become worse nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that sanctioned unrestricted political expenditures by companies and organizations.

Although the Citizens United decision isn’t directly related to the environmental impact of fracking here in Oklahoma and elsewhere, it does carry symbolic value because of the time frame. It was just the following year—Nov. 5, 2011 to be exact—that a large 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague and scientists became concerned it was manmade. Their concerns have now been scientifically verified in study after study. Meanwhile, state leaders, the corporate media, especially The Oklahoman, and the oil and gas industry were slow to react.

The oil and gas industry is important to the state. For example, current lower worldwide oil prices, which mean less production, layoffs and state tax revenue, are going to hurt the economy here. State leaders have talked about diversifying the Oklahoma economy for years, but as the oil patch thrives or plummets so does everything else, or at least it still seems that way. So we’re still explicitly tied to oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma for our economic success, but now we have wastewater spills and earthquakes to worry about. It’s not a good situation, but it’s the new reality.

The larger and long-term answer to all this is easy: We need to increase our efforts to develop renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

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