Inspect, Government, Inspect

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

The fact a Republican legislator in an extremely conservative state is pointing out the lack of government oversight of oil and gas wells exposes the dirty business of extracting fossil fuels.

Here’s the larger, local philosophical question right now: Can one acknowledge the positive impact of the energy industry on the Oklahoma economy while also arguing for stricter regulations and oversight protecting the environment?

State Rep. Steve Vaughan, a Republican from Ponca City, held an interim study last week on the issue of water contamination related to oil and gas wells. According to a media release, here’s what Vaughan had to say on the topic:

There are more than 22,000 producing as well as disposal wells in my area. Less than 50 percent have been tested for their mechanical integrity in the last four years, according to DEQ. I think we learned in today’s study that we could give some of our fish and wildlife guys and other agencies some power to report and shut down problematic wells. We could also give the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Oklahoma Corporation Commission more resources to look into these wells.

There’s not a lot of GOP “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric in that extremely specific statement. Here’s the media release issued by Vaughan. Here’s a news story about the interim study.

The concern is whether oil and gas pollution is contributing to fish kills in the Salt Fork River and water well contamination in north central Oklahoma in Vaughan’s District 37.

Another pressing issue is that scientists claim wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process are responsible for the state’s earthquake emergency. The state is now experiencing more 3.0-magnitude earthquakes than California. There have been so many earthquakes that it’s literally difficult to keep track of them. As I write this, the number could change. As of July, there were 258 3.0-magnitude quakes. I use that low number only because it’s cited in this excellent National Geographic story about Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm.

The larger issue is that all this points to the need to develop cleaner, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power and hydropower. Even those energy sources don’t come without their own negative environmental impact, but there’s no doubt the extraction of fossil fuels, along with carbon emissions, continues to critically damage our planet.