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Earthquake Task Force Idea Deserves Support

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An Oklahoma state senator, along with a Tulsa geologist, have called for establishing a federal task force to study the dramatic increase of earthquakes here that scientists argue is related to oil and gas drilling processes.

It’s a good idea. State leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, have been slow to respond to the issue. Will the ultra conservative Oklahoma Congressional delegation get behind the proposal despite the powerful oil and gas industry political lobby?

State Sen. Jerry Ellis, a Democrat from Valiant, and Tulsa geologist Bob Jackman floated the idea on Monday. According to a StateImpact Oklahoma article, Ellis and Jackman issued a press release that called the situation an “emergency.” They want a federal task force comprised of scientists and researchers from universities, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey to look into the matter. Representatives from the oil and gas industry would be asked to join the task force as well.

The statistics are incredibly alarming. Oklahoma now leads California in the number of earthquakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher. So far this year, the state has experienced more than 200 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher, which can cause damage. A 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague in 2011, causing damage. The number of temblors has been steadily increasing. It’s not uncommon in parts of Oklahoma these days to feel several earthquakes each week or two or three on any given day.

Scientists claim the earthquakes are caused by the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” process. Oklahoma is experiencing an oil and gas mini-boom because of fracking. In the fracking process, wastewater is eventually injected underground by high pressure into what are called injection or disposal wells. It is believed that process is causing what have become known as “earthquake swarms” here.

A relatively recent town hall on the issue in Edmond drew hundreds of concerned citizens. Some people, including myself, have called for a moratorium on disposal wells until the matter can be further studied. Scientists and the federal government have long known that injection wells can cause earthquakes. I wrote about that here.

The oil and gas industry’s consistent position, supported by the editorial page of the state’s largest newspaper, is that it’s not conclusive the injection wells are causing the earthquakes. The oil and gas industry, of course, has no compelling reason to accept liability. That’s why a federal task force, operating outside the powerful oil and gas lobby, could be the answer.

I’m only speculating, but prominent members of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation, including the state’s two senators, could try to squash the idea if the oil and gas industry urges them to do so.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe has accepted more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1989. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole has accepted $616,250 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2001. The campaign contribution information comes from the site OpenSecrets.org.

Unfortunately, money has corrupted our political process so much that it’s possible only a large, damaging earthquake or series of damaging earthquakes will generate any real action. The proposed task force, however, remains a solid idea. Who will champion it in Washington?

Clear Choice: Paula Sophia For House District 88

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(She’s a perfect blend of artistic inspiration and the pragmatic. An inspired writer. A down-to-earth beat cop helping neighbors and fighting crime. She embodies what we might call the soul or spirit of HD 88, an eclectic area of Oklahoma City known for sending liberal, open-minded politicians to the statehouse.)

Paula Sophia, a retired Oklahoma City police officer and a well-known local writer, is the clear choice for State Representative in the city's diverse, artistic and progressive House District 88.

Sophia faces her opponent, Jason Dunnington, in an Aug. 26 Democratic runoff election that will determine the winner of the overall race since no Republican or Independent is running for the position.

Dunnington, by all accounts, is a sincere candidate and decent person, but he doesn’t offer as much as Sophia in terms of her work experience with people on the day-to-day neighborhood level and the deep manner in which she embraces and lives a life of diversity and tolerance. In his online campaign material, Dunnington describes himself as a former pastor, cites his time spent as a student at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany and points out his father is a SNU dean. I consider the Nazarene Church a right-wing religious institution opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and, like most right-wing religious organizations, basically in favor of at least some forms or shades of theocracy. Surely, many HD 88 voters will be skeptical of someone who bases his appeal for support on his ultra intense right-wing religious background, something he calls his “great heritage.”

This is what Sophia, pictured right, will bring to the job: Intelligence, vast historical knowledge of Oklahoma City because of her award-winning police work in a 22-year career and the ability to serve the varied interests of her constituents in a district considered one of the most liberal in the state.

As a prose writer and poet, often seen wearing a signature beret, she will also bring style and difference to a staid legislature now dominated by ultra conservatives intent on denying people equal rights and underfunding education at all levels.

As someone who struggled with gender conflict as she eventually transitioned from a man to a woman, Sophia will bring empathy and understanding to those constituents in need of help for a variety of reasons or those constituents who don’t feel part of the conservative Oklahoma status quo or who define or want to define themselves outside of the rigid, cultural codes of heteronormativity.

Sophia, I should note, is a former graduate student of mine, and I know her, on one level, as an excellent creative writer, a novelist who brings her characters to life with precision and psychological realism in her book Shadowboxer. On another level, I know her as someone completely dedicated to her community as I’ve followed her life and career on social media and in the local press and through her own writing.

Along with her police career, Sophia is an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm. She has two children and lives with her wife, Pam, in the Paseo District of Oklahoma City.

She’s a perfect blend of artistic inspiration and the pragmatic. An inspired writer. A down-to-earth beat cop helping neighbors and fighting crime. She embodies what we might call the soul or spirit of HD 88, an eclectic area of Oklahoma City known for sending liberal, open-minded politicians to the statehouse.

As a State Representative, Sophia will undoubtedly be a progressive voice in the legislature in the tradition of Al McAffrey and Kay Floyd. Taking on the conservative majority can be frustrating and sometimes just incredibly boring, but Sophia has repeatedly shown she has the right stuff and long-term tenacity to fight for progressive values, such as adequate education funding and equal rights.

With large majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans run state government right now. The few progressive voices we do have at the legislature are often drowned out by all the conservative dogma and ideology. I believe Sophia has a better chance of getting heard in all the right-wing posturing. Her election would send a message of equality and tolerance in a way Dunnington’s election could never match. For that reason alone, and given the state legislature’s massive conservative majorities, she deserves the position, but it’s her superior qualifications that really make her the indisputable choice.

HD 88 voters should make an important political statement and keep their district a vibrant, thriving area of Oklahoma City by sending Paula Sophia to the state Capitol on Aug. 26.

Earthquakes, Wind Farms and Property Rights

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(Here’s the bottom line: Overall, homeowners here, in particular, have much more to be worried about when it comes to the earthquake surge than they do about wind farms in rural parts of the state.)

Earthquakes that scientists argue are caused by the oil and gas fracking process continue to shake Oklahoma in record numbers, but the state’s largest newspaper is more concerned about the property rights of people who live near wind farms.

A recent Oklahoman editorial—“With wind farms, property rights issues deserve careful review” (July 28, 2014)—points out, “The problem with wind turbines . . . is that neighboring properties can be negatively impacted.” It goes on to make the point that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission needs to carefully consider the rights of the people who own these “neighboring properties.”

Of course, there’s nothing directly wrong with this innocuous argument over the noise and what the editorial calls “obstructed views” caused by wind farms, which generate electricity and represent one important energy alternative to fossil fuels. Wind farms should be strategically placed to cause no or as little nuisance as possible. That’s just common sense, and I agree with it while deeply supporting the development of renewable energy sources.

So one might hope The Oklahoman would apply this logic about property rights to the huge surge in earthquakes here over the last three years or so. Scientists argue the record-breaking number of earthquakes at a 3.0-magnitude or higher—there have been more than 200 so far in Oklahoma this year, surpassing even California—are caused by wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking drilling process by the oil and gas industry.

The position on the issue taken by The Oklahoman has basically parroted the oil and gas industry’s claim that there’s no definitive proof disposal wells are responsible for the earthquakes. In a July 9 editorial, the newspaper argued, “It’s not yet settled science that oil and gas exploration is to blame for the earthquake swarm,” and “we’ll just have to ride it out” while obtaining “a rider to our homeowner insurance policies.” That’s helpful, right?

In the fracking process, wastewater laced with chemicals used to release oil and gas is eventually injected by high pressure underground into rock formations. Scientists believe this process can trigger earthquakes.

It’s no secret that The Oklahoman editorial page is a fervent supporter of the oil and gas industry, which, of course, is a vital part of the economy here. It should also be noted that the newspaper is owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, who made his money in the drilling business. The newspaper’s support for the oil and gas industry also means it offers little critical coverage of it. That has to be done by media outlets outside the state.

So let’s get this straight. In the distorted worldview of The Oklahoman it’s okay to ignore science and argue, essentially, in favor of the oil and gas industry over the property rights of anyone in the state who owns a structure that’s shaking on an almost daily basis because of earthquakes. Yet, when it comes to clean, renewable energy, such as wind farms, the newspaper argues the rights of property owners should be a paramount concern for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. That’s a major contradiction.

Here’s the bottom line: Overall, homeowners here, in particular, have much more to be worried about when it comes to the earthquake surge than they do about wind farms in rural parts of the state.

A 3.4-magnitude earthquake struck near Edmond on Wednesday, for example. Are all these earthquakes damaging the foundations and roofs of homes? Is it only a matter of time before a huge earthquake causes massive property damage? The Oklahoman doesn’t seem too concerned about that, but if your view is obstructed by a wind turbine out in the country it has got your back.

Unfortunately, state leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the Corporation Commission, have done little to address the earthquake issue here because of the powerful oil and gas political lobby. Their positions are supported by The Oklahoman editorial page. People need to wake up and work outside of the ultra-conservative bubble to protect their homes before it’s too late.

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