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.
Let me try to make a nuanced argument about the ongoing Joe Mixon spectacle in Norman.
If you live in the Oklahoma City area, you might not know much about what’s going on in Ukraine right now or what President Barack Obama’s reaction is to ISIS, and you might not know how much money the state will be giving to other richer states in Medicaid money because of foolish right-wing ideology. The figure, in case you’re interested, is $4.5 billion through 2022.
What you WILL know about, at least on some level, is that an 18-year-old football player for the Oklahoma Sooners has been charged with the misdemeanor crime of "acts resulting in gross injury” for hitting a 20-year-old woman in the face at a restaurant in Norman on July 25.
Believe me, this isn’t a defense of Joe Mixon, the player accused in the crime.
This is a defense of basic priorities in our culture.
I find it disconcerting and just downright sad that “about 40 members of the media,” according to NewsOK.com, showed up to watch a surveillance video of the incident. That number again is 40. Let me be clear that I believe the Norman Police Department should have released the video to the general public, but it’s tragic that its limited premier attracted so much media attention. It tells the ugly truth about misplaced interests. Did you know this is an election year? What’s the name of the Democrat candidate running for governor? What Democrat is running against U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe? How much has state education funding been cut in Oklahoma since 2008?
Mixon hasn’t played a down of football for the University of Oklahoma. He’s only 18. He might be a highly recruited player, but he’s in college, not the pros, and he hasn’t even played yet. It’s also a given that football attracts macho participants who are coached to smash through the line with brute force or sack a quarterback or deliver a bruising tackle to a wide receiver. Football these days is about consistent concussions leading to brain damage among players and suspensions for drug use and criminal charges. It’s a violent sport that attracts violent people. In 20 or 30 years, football, unless there are major rule changes, might not even exist as a major spectator event. There, I said it.
Football player hit woman. Sky blue. Grass green. Sun hot. Ice cold. Feel itch. Scratch.
My point, then, about the Mixon case is so what? The corporate media in this state can’t even cover the state legislature with any depth or give a truthful and consistent accounting of our earthquake emergency, but some 18-year-old kid accused of a misdemeanor crime can elicit breathless coverage and endless speculation over whether he’ll ever play football in Oklahoma. He’s not even from Oklahoma. Why should anyone even care? Did I mention he’s 18?
So “about 40 members” of the media—these are presumably grown men and women getting paid—showed up to watch the Mixon video. Was it a smash hit? Did they have refreshments? Popcorn? Nachos? How much media energy has been expended on this story? How many words have been written and how many video clips have been produced about some 18-year-old wannabe football player? How much talk radio has been devoted to the spectacle? (I wouldn’t know, but I presume it has been quite a bit.) Do you know how many Oklahoma college students have loan debt simply because they want an education? Have you read Thomas Piketty’s book about income inequality yet?
The wannabe is still big man on campus, according to NewsOK.com, which points outs:
Despite his suspension, Mixon has remained in close contact with the football program. He attended a practice open to OU students and afterward was seen walking with a member of the football department. Tuesday, Mixon was at OU’s practice for at least some of the session.
I wonder what the young woman involved in the altercation thinks about Mixon’s status with the football program? Why did OU President David Boren and Sooners coach Bob Stoops obviously side with Mixon in this case and not the woman he hit as apparently shown by the video watched by about 40 presumably adult media types?
Oh, never mind about that, media types. How many yards do you think Mixon will gain if he ever plays for the Sooners? Will he be as good as a running back as Adrian Peterson? Can he be the key to a national championship? Will he be, as coach Stoops likes to tell News9’s Dean Blevins, et. al., a “special” player? That’s what matters. Did I mention he hasn’t played a down for the Sooners yet?
Mixon’s so adorbs! Does he tweet? What’s his favorite television show? What’s his favorite food? Is he a dog person or a cat person? What music does he like? So, again, how many yards will he gain? What does it feel like to be so young but so famous? Did I mention he’s 18? Ridic.
The Republican response here to the decision by the federal government to deny Oklahoma a continued waiver for provisions of the No Child Left Behind program is about as rote and hollow as teaching to the test.
The federal Education Department made the decision, which could impact how some $29 million in federal money gets spent in state schools, because the state legislature, with Gov. Mary Fallin’s approval, repealed the Common Core standards without replacing them with new standards.
State legislators and the governor impulsively repealed the academic standards for schools supposedly because of over-hyped federal intrusion and then didn’t replace them right away with new standards, which could have prevented the mess. The federal government then made an appropriate and reasoned decision to ensure there are some standards in the state’s schools tied to federal money.
What’s more, consider that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was an initiative passed in Congress with the full backing and support of President George W. Bush, a Republican. Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002.
But Republicans here won’t let these basic facts get into their way. Their political strategy, which has become not only tiresome by also extremely ineffective, is to demonize President Barack Obama and hope voters here don’t pay attention to the details.
For example, in a prepared statement, Fallin said:
It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars. Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.
Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, weighed in with the anti-Obama rhetoric as well:
President Obama and the United States Department of Education have chosen to place politics ahead of the well-being of Oklahomans. Our education reform efforts have been squarely focused on ushering in higher standards and empowering parents with choice and more ability to direct their children’s education. Unfortunately, the President and Washington bureaucrats have responded with a decision that attempts to place additional burdens on schools.
Any logical person would probably surmise that Obama has more important issues to deal with than some state legislature and governor that makes an impulsive decision to do away with academic standards in schools without specific replacement. Fallin’s statement that “Washington is now acting to punish us” is pure hyperbole. The federal government’s response is a rational consequence to an irrational decision.
I’m no fan of NCLB or high-stakes testing, in general, but the failure of politicians, such as Fallin and Bingman, to anticipate the federal response to the repeal of standards was a huge mistake with consequences that were clear at the time. It’s “outrageous,” to use Fallin’s word, they didn’t think it through appropriately.
The okeducationtruths blog has published an excellent post over the impact of the waiver loss and how state leaders knew what was coming. One result, according to the post, is that the official list of schools needing improvement could grow from 400 to 1600. It could also lead to staff cuts at schools, the post notes. In short, it’s another mess in a state known for its radical right-wing politicians, who often replace basic logic with ideology, sweeping generalizations and reductionist sloganeering.
The political question has become whether voters here are waking up to the conservative posturing that creates its own litany of quagmires and problems. Fallin’s approval ratings have dropped, for example. Can Democrat and gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman upset her in the November election? The fact it remains a legitimate question a few weeks outside of the election might be a sign of an important political shift in the state.