Earthquakes, Wind Farms and Property Rights

Image of wind turbines

(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.