Gov. Mary Fallin has finally formed a council to help study Oklahoma’s earthquake emergency, but there are even more environmental problems emerging from the state’s ongoing mini-oil and gas boom.
On Thursday, Fallin announced the formation of the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity, which will try to link together lawmakers, researchers and oil and gas industry staff to further study the state’s recent earthquake swarm. Scientists claim the dramatic surge in earthquakes here has been caused by wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process.
The oil and gas industry, generally speaking, has worked to cast doubt on the scientific claims, arguing the earthquakes are a natural phenomenon. Oklahoma this year leads California in the number of earthquakes 3.0 magnitude or higher, which was reported earlier this summer.
Is the formation of the council just a token gesture in an election year? Maybe so, but at least it’s recognition of people’s concerns about their safety and property. The energy industry here is important to the economy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t face government scrutiny and regulations, especially during a boom period.
Meanwhile, yet another fish kill in the Salt Fork River in north central Oklahoma may well be caused by oil and gas drilling activities, according to a recent news report by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA). The water has tested high for salinity and the “river also had an unusual smell and metallic taste,” according to the OETA report, which quoted a Department of Wildlife Conservation official claiming he believed oil and gas activity near the river might be the cause of the problem.
Here's a recent report by OETA on the issue.
Let’s be clear that these issues are not about necessarily attacking the oil and gas industry, but it should be clear to everyone at this point that extracting fossil fuels from the earth is a dirty business with a high potential for doing damage to the environment and personal property. These issues also put our safety and our very lives at risk through earthquakes and water contamination.
I’ve long argued that state leaders, including Fallin, should act with more urgency when it comes to these issues. The new council is a start, but a broader approach to examining the environmental impact of oil and gas drilling processes, especially fracking, is something that needs to happen right now in Oklahoma.
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