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Bill Would Prohibit Cities From Banning Fracking

say no to fracking by Ari Moore on Flickr The Commons

As I pointed out in my last post, it appears the state has finally acknowledged the link between the dramatic surge in the number of earthquakes here and the fracking process.

But just after that happened, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed legislation that limits cities and towns from prohibiting oil and gas companies from fracking in their jurisdictions. Here’s a story on the legislation.

So it sure makes it seem like the state’s new web site on the earthquake issue, which discusses the link between wastewater disposal wells and earthquakes, doesn’t really mean much.

One of the measures, Senate Bill 809, which prohibits cities from banning fracking, passed the House on a 64-32 vote and will return to the Senate. It’s expected to pass since the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill.

All this comes after voters in Denton, Texas last year voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their city. Cities in Ohio and California have also recently banned fracking as well. The entire state of New York has also banned the process. As the devastating environmental impact of fracking becomes more apparent, people are starting to act through protest and the ballot process.

Oklahoma lawmakers are acting preemptively in the interests of oil and gas companies and those who get royalty checks, but in the process they are taking away the rights of other citizens to protect their property and their own safety. Allowing people local control over their lives has always been a conservative tenet, but the power of the oil and gas lobby appears to trump that idea.

Here’s the bottom line: There are plenty of places to frack for oil and gas in Oklahoma. Why even do it near high-population areas or major water supplies?

In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into deep underground rock formations that create fissures that release oil and gas. The wastewater from this process is then injected deep underground into disposal wells. Scientists believe it is the wastewater disposal or “injection” well process that has now made Oklahoma the leader in the number of 3.0-magnitude earthquakes in the contiguous United States.

Scientists also believe Oklahoma could experience a major earthquake causing major damage because of the seismic activity. Many Oklahomans are rightly concerned that the constant earthquakes are causing damage to their homes and other property. Environmentalists have also contended for years that fracking leads to water contamination.

Right now, a world oil glut has decreased the number of fracking operations in the state, but any major event or shift in geo-politics could change that quickly. Meanwhile, Oklahoma faces a real crisis when it comes to all these earthquakes, which shake our homes on a regular basis now. We need more than a web site.

State Finally Acknowledges Earthquake Reality, But Now Action Is Needed

Fracking In Karnes County by Sean Paul Kelley on Flickr The Commons

It’s better late than never, right? But now it’s time for action.

Going on four years since a 2011 damaging 5.6-magnitude earthquake and several aftershocks struck near Prague, Oklahoma, the state has apparently finally admitted the surge in quakes here could be tied to wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.

The New York Times spelled it out in a major story yesterday. The state has published a web site on the state’s major earthquake surge—Oklahoma now leads the contiguous United States in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes—that includes information about the wastewater disposal well connection to seismic activity. What’s more, the state’s Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a statement that finally conceded what scientists have argued for years now. These earthquakes are “very likely” induced by manmade oil and gas drilling activities.

Of course, there’s no telling how much damage the hundreds of smaller earthquakes over the last few years has inflicted and will continue to inflict on Oklahoma homes, other buildings and the state infrastructure, such as bridges. What about the condition of foundations of buildings or door and windowsills or cracks in walls? What about the alignment of bridge supports? The earthquake surge here is so phenomenal, at least in modern history, that it’s impossible to know unless thousands upon thousands of homes and buildings are thoroughly inspected. That takes time and money, and it’s not even the main dilemma right now.

The main dilemma is bringing a halt to the earthquake activity. But the most worrisome idea posited so far is that the wastewater disposal well process has unleashed an earthquake surge here that can’t be stopped for the foreseeable future even if the state were to issue moratoriums on disposal wells.

Nonetheless, I suggest the following:

  • The state should issue a complete moratorium on wastewater injection wells in the state as soon as possible and get ready for lawsuits from the oil and gas industry.
  • The state, perhaps with federal financial help, could offer free earthquake-damage inspections to any home or building in the state in particular zones of high seismic activity.
  • The state, which has already done some inspections, should conduct specific earthquake-damage inspections to all the state’s infrastructure in zones of high seismic activity.
  • Now is the perfect time to act. World oil prices are slumping and fracking activities have correspondingly diminished in Oklahoma’s oil patch. The science is overwhelmingly clear that manmade oil and gas drilling activities have caused the surge in earthquakes. Oklahomans, as witnessed in town halls on the issue, seem extremely concerned about their property and safety.

    In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected by high pressure into underground rock formations that release oil and gas. The wastewater from this process is then “stored” after it is injected again by high pressure into wastewater wells. Scientists have published major studies arguing it’s the wastewater well process that has caused the earthquakes and warn the state may experience a major earthquake that does immense damage in the state. Environmentalists have also argued for years that the entire fracking process also leads to water contamination.

    There’s no denying the oil and gas industry is important to Oklahoma’s economy, but there’s different methods to dispose or reuse or recycle wastewater from fracking. The continued development of renewable energy sources, such as wind power, has also decreased our reliance on fossil fuels.

    We’ve now fracked our way to oil independence from the rest of the world but at what cost, especially to Oklahoma?

    Okie Voter Vortex of Apathy

    All the local discussion and punditry hype and think-tank mush about the political disengagement of Oklahomans fail to note the obvious and the reality.

    The obvious and the reality are that political apathy here is based on the fact that conservatives—both Republicans and Democrats—and the right-wing corporate media here have shut down any real political debate in the public square.

    This means people are labeled freaks if they passionately question whether the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, leads to environmental damage or if they believe impoverished people should have access to health care or if they want to argue teachers should get paid halfway decent wages.

    These arguments are presented by activists, for sure, and on a blog like this, but under present circumstances they’re never going to get a full and extended hearing, say, in The Oklahoman or on News9 in Oklahoma City. Why become politically engaged when news anchor Kelly Ogle or the editorial board of The Oklahoman will dismiss such engagement with sarcastic, self-righteous indignation worth about two cents?

    Better to just move out of this place or shut up, right? That’s the prevailing message that everyone eventually gets in Oklahoma one way or another.

    Here’s a link to a blog post by Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post, which outlines Oklahoma’s pathetic “political disengagement.” Here’s the gist of the matter from Chokshi enlightening post:

    Oklahomans consistently rank near the bottom on a variety of measures of political obsession — or engagement, depending on your perspective. Only two states saw a smaller share of eligible voters cast ballots in 2012, and just seven states had a smaller share of residents registered to vote, according to census data. People in Oklahoma were 10th most likely to say they never vote in local elections, 11th most likely to say they infrequently discuss politics with family and friends, and 14th most likely to say they don’t express their political or community opinions online, according to data collected by the census in 2013.

    It’s a rough assessment, but when those five rankings are combined, Oklahoma scores higher than any other state on political disengagement — ahead of Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.

    The Oklahoman editorial board supposedly laments this lack of participation and calls it a “perpetual problem,” but the newspaper itself is the problem. It operates as a monopoly in the dying business of hard-copy newspapers, and it doesn’t allow consistent, dissenting opposition to its extremist right-wing views. Why participate?

    Of course, the newspaper didn’t even think low voter turnout was a problem way back in 2014.

    One of the newspaper’s former editorial page editors, Patrick McGuigan, was unabashed about it back in 1998. McGuigan said back then, “"We're trying to change the political culture; we're trying to make Oklahoma a conservative bastion." Mission accomplished. That’s why McGuigan is being inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame this month.

    Obviously, there are solutions beyond better and fairer journalism to the problem. We can make it easier to register to vote. We can start combining our local election days with general election days. We can teach our children in schools about the importance of civic duty, but that’s problematic here in the era of right-wing, gay-bashing extremists, such as state Rep Sally Kern of Oklahoma City. She might call that liberal indoctrination. Better to just move out of this place or shut up, right? But I said that already.

    The Oklahoma Policy Institute lays it all out here in its incredibly wonky and beautiful way as usual, but I see OKPolicy as part of the morass these days. I didn’t think this at one time, but now I do. The organization has absorbed The Oklahoma Observer, for example, and has become the token “liberal” viewpoint for the media, especially for The Oklahoman, but its centrist-to-left views hardly challenge the right-wing orthodoxy here. On some of the real important issues, such as the environmental impact of fracking in the state, OKPolicy doesn’t have much to say at all. Since its creation, the state voters have become more conservative and monolithic and apathetic. I guess you could say that about this blog, too. But I don’t get paid by or take my orders from corporations. I’ve never accepted one cent of advertising money or even contributions of any kind just to prove Okie Funk’s complete independence.

    It can be absolutely scary when you don’t know what someone might say or do. Sometimes in the world of politics, and especially when it comes to political engagement, that can be a useful tool. We all know what OKPolicy and The Oklahoman are going to say or do. How will that sameness and repetition help people become more politically motivated? What new chart or statistical analysis will help us here? What groundbreaking, right-wing editorial will motivate some young person to become politically active and help end the earthquakes here in central Oklahoma?

    Maybe, New York Times columnist and professor Paul Krugman is correct that politics these days is now all about the party. The Republicans here and elsewhere have moved so far to the extreme right, according to Krugman, there’s little to do but vote against a party and its ideas. It’s not about the individual running for office anymore. Ignore all that. Anyone but a Republican? But this can breed its own form of apathy, too.

    In the end, though, it might just be something in the water here in Oklahoma. Maybe it’s all the mental illness, the poor health care, the poverty, the closed minds, the religious fundamentalism, the denial of any personal agency for anyone seeking it, the tornadoes and now the earthquakes that no one will do anything about. Let’s just call it the vortex of apathy with two sides of anxiety.

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